What is heavy menstrual bleeding?
Heavy menstrual bleeding is the term for a period with prolonged or unusually heavy bleeding. This is a common problem, which is rarely harmful as most women will not experience blood loss that’s severe enough to cause damage.
In the rare case that a woman does lose a harmful amount of blood, the medical term for heavy menstrual bleeding is menorrhagia.
What are the symptoms of heavy menstrual bleeding?
Symptoms of heavy menstrual bleeding are having a period that is heavy or longer in duration than normal. If you have severe heavy menstrual bleeding, this will impact on your day-to-day activities, and you will find it difficult to do the things you usually do. This is because you’ll be experiencing large amounts of blood loss and cramping, making you feel faint, tired or weak.
If you have severe heavy menstrual bleeding, you’ll likely be soaking through your usual sanitary pads or tampons every hour. This can go on for many hours. You also may find that you need to wake up in the night to change your tampon or towel, or you bleed for longer than a week.
In some cases, you may pass blood clots or experience the symptoms of anaemia, such as shortness of breath or tiredness. If you find you’re needing to change your towel or tampon more than once an hour for at least two consecutive hours, you should see your doctor.
Causes of heavy menstrual bleeding
Sometimes, the causes of heavy menstrual bleeding are unknown, but it can often be put down to a number of reasons. One of the most common causes is a hormone imbalance. When you have a normal period, the balance between male and female hormones is regulated in the build-up of the uterus lining. When you have an imbalance either way, the uterus lining develops excessively, shedding in the form of heavy menstrual bleeding.
Your heavy menstrual bleeding may also be because of dysfunction of the ovaries – such as when they fail to release an egg during your menstrual cycle. When this happens, your body doesn’t release progesterone, leading to hormonal imbalance.
There can also be other causes of heavy menstrual bleeding, including uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous tumours, or polyps, which are small benign lumps that form on the uterus lining.
Other causes could include pregnancy, miscarriage, medications, bleeding disorders and – in rare cases – cancer.
Treatment options for heavy menstrual bleeding
If you’re concerned about heavy menstrual bleeding, speak to your doctor. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis and cause, but there are several medications you may be prescribed. Commonly, you may be recommended over the counter pain-killers. If they don’t work, treatments include tranexamic acid, which controls the bleeding, oral contraceptives or hormone-balancing medications.