Heavy menstrual bleeding: What’s normal? What’s dangerous?

Menstrual flow and symptoms have a wide range of normal. Some women experience only a few days of light bleeding every month with no other symptoms. Other women may suffer through days of cramps, headaches and maxi pads. Both could be considered normal. The duration or heaviness of your menstrual bleeding can depend on your age, whether you have been pregnant or any number of other factors and still be healthy.

But for women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding, cramps and extreme fatigue that bring their life to a halt each month, “normal” may not be normal. Heavy menstrual bleeding, or menorrhagia, is caused by a wide range of health conditions, from hormonal imbalances to cervical or uterine cancer.

How do I know if my menstrual bleeding is too heavy?

The first sign that something may be amiss with your menstrual cycle is if your menstrual bleeding is interfering with your daily life. If you miss work or school because of heavy bleeding, if your period lasts longer than a week or if you become extremely fatigued during your period, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Other symptoms typical of heavy menstrual bleeding can include:

  • Needing one or more pads or tampons every hour for several hours
  • A sudden change in your period from typically light flow to heavy flow
  • Needing double sanitary protection to control your menstrual flow
  • Bleeding through sanitary protection during the night
  • Passing blood clots larger than a quarter
  • Anemia caused by blood loss

What causes heavy menstrual bleeding?

Unfortunately, many health conditions can cause heavy menstrual bleeding. Menstrual cycles and systems can change throughout a woman’s lifetime, but if you experience a sudden change in your period or have extreme symptoms, treatment may be needed.

Here are some of the more common causes of heavy menstrual bleeding:

  • Hormone imbalance
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Endometriosis
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Uterine polyps
  • Adenomyosis
  • Intrauterine device (IUD)
  • Pregnancy complications or an early miscarriage
  • Uterine cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Hereditary bleeding disorders – impaired blood clotting
  • Medication side effects
  • Other medical conditions

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Diagnosing heavy menstrual bleeding

Because there are so many potential underlying causes, it may take a series of tests to determine what is causing your heavy menstrual bleeding. After discussing your medical and sexual health history, your provider may need to use ultrasound or a uterine biopsy to help determine the cause and the best course of treatment. Your doctor may also recommend a blood test to check for anemia, which can cause you to feel weak or tired.

Treating heavy menstrual bleeding

Years ago, women with heavy menstrual bleeding had few options. Too many times they faced either living with pain and exhaustion every month or having a hysterectomy. Fortunately, today, in many cases heavy menstrual bleeding can be treated with hormone therapy, such as birth control pills or with prescription medication. Another option for women who have completed childbearing, is endometrial ablation, an effective, permanent treatment that can be performed in the doctor’s office or outpatient surgery center and has little recovery time.

If your heavy menstrual bleeding interferes with your daily life and disrupts your schedule, you should talk about your bleeding with your doctor. It may be the first symptom of a larger health problem. Or it may be that you can get fast, easy relief and start living your life every day, not just three weeks a month.

The professional and caring team at Integrative Wellness understands your concerns and respects that you know your own body. Set up an appointment today to discuss your heavy menstrual bleeding so we can get you on the path to a healthier, happier life.