Have you ever experienced a particularly heavy period (also known as “menorrhagia”) and wondered why?
A woman’s cycle can fluctuate for many reasons, most of which aren’t usually indicators of serious health issues.
However, it’s essential that you know about what to look for when it comes to unusually heavy bleeding, and that you pay close attention to the cause and symptoms to make sure that it’s nothing serious.
How Can You Tell if Bleeding is “Heavy”?
Generally, bleeding can vary from month-to-month, and typical patterns will differ significantly between individuals. But if you experience a sudden change, fatigue, shortness of breath, severe cramps, or are unable to follow through with normal activities, then you should definitely see a gynecologist or midwife as soon as possible.If you’re finding yourself consistently using several pads or tampons and changing them out within an hour or two, this constitutes heavy bleeding. If you’re bleeding for more than seven straight days, that is also heavy bleeding. And if you see large clots regularly, this could also be cause for alarm.
Medical Conditions Causing Heavy Bleeding
Sometimes unusually heavy bleeding is caused by a medical condition. Medical conditions that can cause this type of bleeding include inherited blood disorders, cancer, liver or kidney disease.
Stress Can Play a Role
Unusually high levels of stress can cause changes in menstruation patterns, and this can go either way. Some women have very light or no periods during times of extreme stress, and others may have heavier periods. Changes in flow may also coincide with alcohol use, depression, anxiety, and even dietary changes.
Hormones May Also Have Something to Do with It
Menstrual cycles depend on the careful balance and timing of estrogen and progesterone. These two hormones essentially determine when and how the uterus lining is shed each month. If there is a reason why hormone production changes, that can affect menstruation and associated symptoms, sometimes making it heavier and more painful.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid problems, and insulin issues are just a few of many things that may disrupt regular hormonal cycles.
STDs and Other Problems with the Uterus or Ovaries
In general, STDs can cause unusual patterns of bleeding, as well as bleeding during sex. Chlamydia is one example of a disease that, although it may not have any obvious symptoms, may cause pelvic inflammatory disease, which sometimes presents itself as unusually heavy bleeding.
In some other cases, uterine fibroids or polyps (benign growths) may cause unusual or heavy bleeding.
Medication Can Affect Flow
Because blood thinners allow blood to flow more freely, if you are taking them, then it may look like you are bleeding heavily – that is, there is less clotting.
Menopause Might Bring Heavier Bleeding
For some women, periods get heavier during menopause, but it’s not always clear why. If you are generally in good health, yet you have other symptoms of perimenopause or menopause, it may very well be associated with the fact that you are producing fewer eggs. You might have noticed this change happening in your early 30s or even later in your 40s.
Changes Because of Birth Control
Sometimes changing your birth control type or even dosage has the effect of changing the patterns of your period. For instance, if you are used to hormonal birth control, but you get an IUD inserted (which essentially emits the same type and level of hormone), you may feel heavy bleeding just because the insertion of the IUD changes the structure of your uterus.
That being said, sometimes a low dose birth control (as prescribed to reduce period pain, for instance) may change your menstruation patterns and have you worrying.
When to Call Your Gynecologist
The bottom line is that a slightly heavier period is nothing to worry about. However, if you think that you’re at risk for an STD or severe health problem, or if your periods are too painful to bear, it’s vital that you speak with a trusted professional as soon as possible.
If you are bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, or have unusually heavy bleeding, you should see a gynecologist as soon as possible and track your symptoms in the meantime. Keeping track of all of your symptoms during this time (not just the signs you are worried about) will help them diagnose your situation accurately and suggest the most appropriate treatment methods.