Heavy periods are when your periods are consistently heavy; so much so that they interfere with your daily life. The medical name for it is menorrhagia.
Around a third of women in the UK say they get heavy periods.
Symptoms of heavy periods
It can be difficult to tell how much blood you’re losing each month because it often looks much more than it is. Here are some signs to help show if you might have heavy periods.
- You need to change your sanitary towel a lot (you soak through a sanitary pad or tampon every hour for several hours in a row).
- You find you have to double up on sanitary protection (use a tampon and a towel at the same time) to prevent leaks.
- You pass large blood clots.
- You bleed through to your clothes or bedding.
- If your periods affect your normal activities such as going out, working or shopping, this may also be a sign that they’re heavy.
It’s possible these signs may indicate that your heavy periods are caused by something else. So it’s a good idea ask your consultant for advice. Also ask your consultant if you have:
- bleeding between periods
- pain or bleeding after sex
- tummy pain
Diagnosis of heavy periods
Your consultant will ask about your symptoms and examine you. They may also ask you about your medical history. You might need to have some tests:
- Blood tests to check the level of haemoglobin in your blood, along with your iron level and hormones to check how well your thyroid is working.
- An internal examination. Your GP will put an instrument called a speculum inside your vagina to look at your vagina and cervix. They might also do a ‘bimanual examination’. This involves them putting their fingers (they’ll wear gloves) into your vagina while pressing on your abdomen at the same time with the other hand. This is to check for tenderness and changes to your womb.
- An ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce an image of your womb.
- A pregnancy test. This is to check that your bleeding isn’t because of a complication related to being pregnant.
Treatment of heavy periods
Medicines can reduce the amount of bleeding you have and ease your symptoms. The main ones are listed below:
- Intrauterine system (IUS) or Mirena coil. This is a small plastic device that’s put into your womb and slowly releases a hormone called levonorgestrel. This hormone reduces the lining of your womb making it thinner, which means you should bleed less. This gives you contraception as well as treating heavy periods.
- Tranexamic acid. This can reduce how much you bleed.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as mefenamic acid. These have been shown to reduce how much you bleed and can ease pain.
- The combined contraceptive pill. This can also help to reduce painful periods and make your periods more regular.
- You can take this as a tablet or have an injection. The injection also acts as a contraceptive.
If medicines don’t help you, you might need to try non-surgical treatments.
Uterine Artery Embolisation
If your heavy periods are caused by fibroids, this might be a treatment option. A doctor will put a thin tube into an artery in your groin and then move it until it reaches the blood vessels that supply the fibroids. They’ll then inject a chemical which will block the blood vessels and thus cause the fibroids to shrink.
In an endometrial ablation operation, a surgeon will destroy or remove most of your womb lining using energy such as microwaves or heat. If you want to have children in the future, this treatment isn’t an option.
This is an operation to remove fibroids. Your consultant may suggest you have this operation if you want to have children in the future. There are other alternative procedures to treat fibroids.
A hysterectomy is an operation to remove your womb. It’s a major operation so it’s usually only done if all other treatments haven’t worked. After a hysterectomy, you won’t have periods anymore and can’t have children.