Women's Health

Heavy Periods

Heavy Periods Overview

Heavy periods is a surprisingly common and treatable condition, affecting approximately 1 in 3 women of reproductive age.324 It causes excessive menstruation that can interfere with daily activities.

Quality of life can be significantly impaired, such as missing work and social events, limiting activities, or interfering with sexual activity. Or you may be hesitant to leave the house to avoid potentially embarrassing situations due to excessive menstrual flow.

  • Abnormal uterine bleeding, or vaginal bleeding that appears to be different from normal menstrual bleeding, can come in various forms:
    • Menorrhagia (pronounced men-or-AH-jah) is the medical term for Heavy Periods and is defined as blood loss totaling 80 mL or more (approximately 6 tablespoons) in a single cycle.
    • Amenorrhea (pronounced AY-men-o-REE-uh) is the medical term for when there is no bleeding.
    • Dysmenorrhea (pronounced dis-men-o-REE-uh) is the medical term for periods that are extremely painful from severe menstrual cramps.

Common Symptoms of Heavy Periods

If you experience any of the following, you may be suffering from Heavy Periods.

  • Periods that last longer than 7 days
  • Menstrual flow that soaks through one or more tampons or napkins every hour for several consecutive hours
  • Menstrual flow that includes large blood clots
  • Fatigue or shortness of breath (symptoms of anemia caused by blood loss)
  • Significant cramping

Causes of Heavy Periods

Several medical conditions may cause or contribute to heavy periods. Most causes are benign (noncancerous), although cancers can cause bleeding as well. It's also possible to experience heavy periods with no known cause.

Common causes are:

  • Hormonal Imbalance: An imbalance of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Hormonal imbalance can also be a sign of early menopause (also known as perimenopause).
  • Fibroids: Benign (noncancerous) growths in the smooth muscle tissue of the walls of the uterus (womb).
    Click here to learn more about fibroids and treatment options.
  • Uterine Polyps: Growths attached to the inner wall of the uterus that extend into the uterine cavity. Polyps are usually noncancerous (benign), although some can be cancerous or eventually develop into cancer (precancerous polyps).
  • Endometriosis: An often painful uterine disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus, the endometrium, grows outside your uterus.
    Click here to learn more about endometriosis.
  • Endometrial Hyperplasia: Occurs when the uterine lining, the endometrium, becomes too thick. While noncancerous, it can lead to cancer of the uterus.
    Female Pelvic Anatomy
  • Adenomyosis: A condition in which the glands from the lining of the uterus become embedded in the muscular wall of the uterus.
  • Infection or Disease: Heavy periods can be a sign of more serious conditions like certain types of cancer or infections in the uterus.
  • Medication: Some drugs, such as anticoagulants (drugs that prevent the clotting of blood) or anti-inflammatory medications, can cause heavy or prolonged periods.
  • Miscarriage: The spontaneous loss of a fetus before the 20th week of pregnancy.
  • Ectopic Pregnancy: The implantation of a fertilized egg outside of the uterus, such as in the fallopian tube.

If you are experiencing heavy periods, you should talk to your doctor.

Only your doctor can determine the appropriate treatment, which may mean changes in diet or lifestyle, medication, or possibly surgery.

Diagnosing Heavy Periods

After a consultation and pelvic exam, your doctor may request the following tests to determine the cause of your heavy periods:

  • Biopsy: A small sample of your uterine lining will be removed for closer examination under a microscope.
  • Blood Test: Results can detect iron deficiency anemia, a common type of anemia, a condition in which blood lacks adequate healthy red, blood cells. Medication may be subscribed.
  • Ultrasound Scan: A small probe is inserted into the vagina to take close-up images of your uterus (womb) using sound waves. This can detect abnormalities such as fibroids, polyps and some forms of cancer.
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