Heavy Menstrual Periods (Menorrhagia)
Menstrual periods can change throughout a woman’s life, but consistently heavy bleeding may signal a problem that can be treated. Many women experience heavy periods, but it is not normal and is something that needs to be discussed with a physician.
What is Considered a Heavy Period?
If a patient experiences any of the following problems, it is recommended that they speak to their doctor:
- Bleeding that last longer than 7 days
- Soaking through more than one tampon or pad every hour several hours in a row
- Needing to change a pad or tampon during the night
- Experiencing large blood clots
Women should seek immediate medical care if they have soaked through their normal tampon or pad in an hour for more than 2 hours, or feel lightheaded.
When Heavy Periods Signal a Problem
A number of things can cause heavy periods, but it can signal a health concern and lead to more serious problems.
A Uterine Growth
Heavy periods can be caused by a growth in the uterus, either a fibroid, which is a noncancerous tumor that develops in the uterine wall, or a polyp, which is a growth made up of endometrium tissue.
Heavy menstrual bleeding is one a common symptom of a variety of pelvic conditions, including:
- Adenomyosis– a condition where the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus.
- Endometriosis– a condition in which the endometrium grows outside of the uterus on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or the intestines.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome– a hormonal disorder that can cause the ovaries to become enlarged and develop small collections of fluid
- Pelvic inflammatory disease– an infection of the reproductive organs that can be a complication of some STDs.
Irregular ovulation, an ectopic pregnancy, and endometrial cancer can also result in heavy periods.
Diagnosing the Cause of Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
The gynecologist will begin to diagnose the cause of heavy periods by looking for signs of a condition, infection, or abnormal growth. They may also do a pelvic exam, pap test, ultrasound, hysteroscopy, or endometrial biopsy.
Treatment for Heavy Periods
The doctor will decide the best treatment plan for each individual patient depending on what is causing the heavy periods. Medication, including hormonal birth control, can lighten a woman’s period or even stop bleeding altogether. If medication isn’t successful, there are surgical and non-surgical options to treat the problem that can be discussed with a doctor, including: