Heavy Periods (Menorrhagia)

Heavy periods, or menorrhagia, affect more women than you’d expect. The NHS reports that around 30% of women suffer from menorrhagia at some point in their lives, but only 5% seek medical help for it. If you’re suffering from the symptoms of menorrhagia, you’re not alone, and there is treatment available. 

How do you differentiate between normal and heavy periods?

While some degree of discomfort is not unusual during a period, menorrhagia is a condition which disrupts your quality of life. Doctors consider blood loss of 30-40ml as the normal level during a period. Blood loss of more than 80ml is generally accepted as the clinical level for a diagnosis of menorrhagia. From a less scientific viewpoint, pain in your pelvic area is the main symptom. If you’re wearing both tampons and sanitary pads to cope with your flow, or you’re finding that you’re passing a lot of clots, these are key markers for a potential diagnosis of menorrhagia.

How common are heavy periods?

Heavy periods affect many women at some point in their lives. In clinical studies, 52% of women admitted to suffering from them, with the majority of sufferers being between 30-49 years old.

What are the common causes?

There are several potential reasons for menorrhagia, and they’re not always a cause for concern. Some of them can be very easily treated.

  • Anaemia – a simple iron deficiency can be both a cause and result of menorrhagia.
  • Hormonal disorders – hormones can play a big part in how your body works. Responsible for symptoms like acne and hirsutism, irregular levels of hormones like oestrogen and progesterone can trigger very heavy bleeding.
  • Infections – infections such as endometritis, or pelvic inflammatory disease, can cause discomfort and heavy flow.
  • Fibroids and polyps – these benign fleshy lumps can be easily removed, taking away the problem.
  • Contraceptives and medications – some forms of contraception, such as the coil, can actually increase your menstrual flow.

What tests are required?

Tests will depend on what your gynaecologist feels is the most likely reason for your menorrhagia. After talking about your symptoms, an abdominal or vaginal exam is usually the next port of call, along with a blood test to check whether you’re suffering from anaemia. These are usually enough to confirm a diagnosis. However, further tests can be carried out, and these might include an ultrasound, extra blood tests, and internal tests such as swabs to test for infection, or a hysteroscopy, which allows a doctor to look inside your uterus with a tiny camera.

What are the treatment options?

It’s important to provide a treatment which will improve your quality of life. The main goal should be to reduce the excessive blood flow. A gynaecologist will discuss your symptoms with you, as menorrhagia often involves many different aspects, and work with you to choose the treatment which is most relevant for you. Medication, an implant similar to the coil, and specific pain relief are commonly prescribed. Surgical options are available and can be discussed with your gynaecologist.

When to see a gynaecologist?

If you’re finding that menorrhagia is increasingly limiting your ability to take part in leisure and social activities, and impacting negatively on your life, you should consult a gynaecologist. Your period should never stop you enjoying your life, and if it does, it’s a good idea to seek medical assistance from a gynaecologist.