Heavy periods, or menorrhagia, affect 1 in 5 women, but there is treatment

An OB/GYN advises you see your doctor if you are soaking through one or more pads or tampons over several hours, or missing school or work to manage your bleeding.

From adolescence through menopause, most women come up with their own unique way of dealing with their monthly menstrual cycle. Tampons or pads, pain- or bloat-relieving medication — they do whatever it takes to make their periods as tolerable as possible.

But when heavy periods keep you from your regular routine, it’s time to ask for help.

Heavy periods affect one in five women in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Symptoms of a heavy period, called menorrhagia, include soaking through one or more super-size pads or tampons every hour for several consecutive hours, prolonged bleeding for more than seven days, and passing blood clots larger than a quarter.

Women with menorrhagia are at risk for anemia, an acute condition that should be treated immediately. Women who are anemic experience fatigue, dizziness and shortness of breath.

It’s important to understand what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to menstrual flow, according to Sara F. Evans, D.O., OB/GYN with Total Woman, a Part of Norton Women’s Care.

“The biggest myth about heavy periods is that they are something you just have to live with,” Dr. Evans said. “There are ways to manage heavy flow days. They don’t have to interrupt your quality of life.”

She advises seeing your doctor if you are soaking through one or more pads or tampons over several hours, or missing school or work to manage your bleeding.

“Heavy periods are relative,” Dr. Evans said. “What is an abnormal period for an adolescent is different than for a woman who is in her perimenopausal years.”

Menorrhagia can be a sign of other issues

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Heavy periods often are normal for a young woman whose menstrual cycle is not yet mature. But it also could indicate a bleeding disorder. If she’s never had a bleeding injury before, a heavy period could be the first indication of a problem.

In older women, irregular, heavy periods can be normal in the years surrounding menopause, but they could also indicate endometrial hyperplasia — abnormal, pre-cancerous cell growths on the lining of the uterus. Overweight and obese women are especially at risk.

Heavy periods can be a sign of other women’s health concerns. Along with pelvic pain, heavy bleeding can indicate endometriosis, in which tissue that normally grows on the lining of the uterus grows in other places in the abdominal cavity. Benign tumors on the lining of the uterus, called fibroids, can cause heavy bleeding, though they might cause no bleeding at all. Thyroid and pituitary gland abnormalities also can contribute to heavy bleeding.

Menorrhagia treatment options

The most common treatment for heavy periods is hormonal contraception — pills, patches, injections — which are designed to regulate menstrual and ovulation cycles. This stabilizes the inner lining of the uterus, which is shed each month during your period, according to Dr. Evans.

Birth control may help ease heavy bleeding if a woman has fibroids, but minimally invasive surgery to remove the growth is usually the most effective treatment. If a woman is past childbearing years, a hysterectomy or ablation to stop bleeding may be her best option.

“There is no single treatment that works for everyone,” Dr. Evans said. “We do a complete evaluation of each unique patient and customize care based on their goals and preferences.”

Check with your doctor if your period is keeping you from living life to the fullest. Don’t suffer in silence when there is help available.

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