Heavy Periods - Menorrhagia

Many women experience heavy periods - some more frequently than others. Women who constantly suffer from heavy, prolonged menstrual bleeding may be diagnosed with a medical condition called menorrhagia. The problems for doctors in determining whether a woman has menorrhagia or just heavier-than-average periods, is that fact that all women are different and lose different amounts of blood when they menstruate. If you are experiencing unpleasant menstrual symptoms, you should go and see your doctor. Suffering in silence doesn't help and you could be missing out on treatment options which could give you some relief. Although your doctor is the only person who can give an expert opinion, here are some guidelines to help you decide whether or not your periods are significantly heavier than average...

Normal Periods Versus Menorrhagia

Although bleeding varies from woman to woman, an average menstrual period occurs once every 21 to 35 days and involves the loss of between two and three tablespoons of blood. Most periods last between four to five days but may continue for up to eight. A woman suffering from menorrhagia, on the other hand, may find that the rhythm of her menstrual cycle does not conform to this 21- to 35-day pattern. She may bleed more frequently and will certainly bleed more heavily. A woman who loses at least five and a half tablespoons of blood during her periods, which may last even longer than the normal limit of eight days, is said to be suffering from menorrhagia.

Menorrhagia Symptoms

Here are some questions to ask yourself to check if your periods are abnormally heavy:

Are your periods negatively impacting on your happiness and quality of life? (In many ways, this is the most important criterion - scientific measurements of blood loss and cycle lengths are all very well, but if you're miserable because of your periods, something needs to be done. This may or may not include medical treatment).

Do you find yourself using a tampon and a sanitary towel at the same time in order to stop menstrual blood staining your clothes?

Are you soaking through a towel or tampon each hour? Does this continue for several hours at a time? (If this is happening you should seek medical help right away).

Even if you're not soaking through protection each hour, are you using an excessive amount of sanitary towels and tampons?

Do your periods last for longer than seven days?

Does your menstrual bleeding include large blot clots?

Do you have any symptoms of anaemia (fatigue, dizziness, breathlessness)?

If you can answer yes to any of these questions, you should go and talk to your doctor about your symptoms.


Menorrhagia may have any one of a number of causes. Causes of abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding include: hormonal imbalances in the body; medical conditions affecting the ovaries; growths in the uterus such as fibroids or polyps; endometriosis; bleeding disorders; ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage; treatment with blood-thinning medications; IUDs, and, in rare cases, cancer of the female reproductive organs.

Keep A Record

If you want to help your doctor figure out the cause of your heavy periods and choose the best treatment as quickly as possible, you can help him or her by keeping a record, or diary, of your symptoms. You should mark the dates of your periods, the level of blood flow on each day (heavy, medium, light, etc) and any other symptoms you experience.


A range of treatments are available for menorrhagia depending upon the underlying cause. The type of treatment recommended to you will depend upon your medical history, general health and your plans, if any, for having children.

You might be given iron supplements if you are suffering from anaemia. If you have painful cramps, you may be prescribed pain killers that are slightly stronger than over-the-counter pain medication. If you're not interested in having children at the moment, oral contraceptive pills may help to regulate your periods and reduce bleeding. Another hormonal treatment is oral progesterone. When taken for 10 consecutive days of your cycle, this medication may ease menorrhagia.

Surgery is an option in more extreme cases of menorrhagia where other treatment methods have failed. Many of the surgical procedures used to treat menorrhagia will reduce your ability to get pregnant or eliminate it altogether (in the case of hysterectomy).

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