Heavy Periods: Know Your Normal vs When To Seek Help

Heavy periods are much more common than you think — 1 in 3 women describe their periods as heavy. In this guide, we will explain the difference between a regular heavy period and when you need to seek further help.

Heavy Periods: Know Your Normal vs When To Seek Help

Heavy periods are much more common than you think — 1 in 3 women describe their periods as heavy.

Though heavy periods are common, they can be distressing, painful and difficult to manage. Knowing what is ‘normal’ — for you individually, and generally — can help you to seek diagnosis and treatment if needed.

In this guide, we will explain the difference between a regular heavy period and when you need to seek further help.

What is considered a heavy period?

Heavy menstrual bleeding, also known as menorrhagia, is a common gynaecological condition that affects many women.

Heavy menstrual bleeding is defined as the loss of more than 80 ml (2.7 fluid ounces) of blood during one period. It can also be described as bleeding that lasts longer than 7 days or is so heavy that it requires changing tampons or pads every 1–2 hours.

To measure the amount of blood loss during a period, several methods can be used. One way is to use a menstrual cup, which can collect and measure the amount of blood.

Another method is to count the number of soaked tampons or pads and estimate the amount of blood loss based on the absorbency of each one. A third option is to use a period tracking app that allows you to log the heaviness of your flow each day.

The typical range of blood loss during a period is around 30–40 ml (1–1.4 fluid ounces) of blood, which is equivalent to 3–5 tablespoons. However, this can vary widely from person to person, and some women may experience heavier or lighter bleeding than this.

How long does a heavy period last?

The duration of menstrual bleeding varies from person to person. A typical menstrual cycle lasts between 21 and 35 days, and menstrual bleeding usually lasts between 2 and 7 days. However, for some women with heavy periods, the bleeding may last longer.A period that lasts for more than 7 days is considered abnormal.

In addition, if you have to use both tampons and pads at the same time, or if you experience flooding (sudden and heavy bleeding), this is also considered abnormal.

What causes heavy periods?

There are several possible causes of heavy menstrual bleeding, including:

  • Hormonal imbalances – Fluctuations in hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone can cause heavy bleeding. For example, heavy periods can occur during perimenopause or with thyroid imbalances.
  • Uterine fibroids – These are non-cancerous growths that develop in the uterus. They can cause heavy and prolonged periods.
  • Endometriosis – This is a condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows in the pelvic organs. This condition often causes painful as well as heavy periods.
  • Polyps – These are growths that develop in the lining of the uterus and can cause heavy bleeding.
  • Certain medications – Blood thinners, such as warfarin, can cause heavy bleeding.

Medical conditions – Certain medical conditions, such as bleeding disorders, and liver or kidney disease can cause heavy periods.

When is heavy menstrual bleeding an emergency?

Excessive blood loss during a period can be a serious medical concern, and it's important to know the signs of excessive blood loss and when to seek medical attention.

Signs of excessive blood loss can include:

  • Passing blood clots larger than a 10p coin
  • Needing to change pads or tampons every hour or less
  • Bleeding through pads or tampons onto clothing or bedding
  • Feeling tired, weak or dizzy
  • Experiencing shortness of breath or chest pain

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical attention right away.

In some cases, excessive blood loss can lead to anaemia or shock, which can be life-threatening.

Complications of heavy menstrual bleeding

Heavy menstrual bleeding can have several negative effects on your health and disrupt your daily life too. Complications of heavy menstrual bleeding can include:

  • Anaemia – Heavy menstrual bleeding can lead to iron deficiency anaemia, which can cause fatigue, weakness and shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue – The loss of blood during heavy periods can cause significant fatigue, making it difficult to carry out daily activities.
  • Pain and discomfort – Heavy periods can cause cramping and discomfort, which can interfere with your ability to work or attend school.
  • Emotional distress – Heavy periods can cause anxiety, depression and irritability.
  • Social limitations – You may avoid social situations or activities during your periods due to heavy bleeding, which can affect your quality of life.
  • Sexual limitations – Women with heavy menstrual bleeding may experience pain or discomfort during sexual activity, affecting their sexual health.

How to help heavy periods

There are a few self-care measures and home remedies that may help ease the symptoms from heavy periods:

  • Applying heat to your lower abdomen can help relieve menstrual cramps and reduce heavy bleeding. Hot water bottles or heat pads are best for this.
  • A balanced diet full of iron and vitamin C-rich foods may help — when you bleed, you lose iron. Foods high in iron can help replace what you’ve lost, while vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
  • Regular exercise can also help reduce the severity of menstrual cramps.
  • Getting enough sleep can also help reduce stress and hormonal imbalances that can contribute to heavy periods.
  • Hydrating when you’ve lost a lot of blood is important.

While the above may help you manage symptoms from heavy periods, in cases where they are affecting your daily life, it is best to see a doctor and seek treatment for frequent heavy periods.

What are the treatment options for heavy periods?

Heavy periods don't always need to be treated. However, this will depend on the impact symptoms have on your quality of life, and the underlying cause. Sometimes, symptoms are manageable and your menstrual cycle can go back to normal.

Some of the medical treatment options available for heavy periods include:

  • Hormonal contraception such as contraceptive pills, patches and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen, can help relieve menstrual cramps and reduce heavy bleeding
  • Tranexamic acid is a medication that can help reduce heavy bleeding by slowing down the breakdown of blood clots
  • Surgical procedures such as endometrial ablation or hysterectomy may be recommended. Endometrial ablation involves removing the lining of the uterus to reduce bleeding, while a hysterectomy involves the removal of the uterus
  • Iron supplements may be recommended to help maintain healthy iron levels

The type of treatment offered for heavy periods will depend on a few different factors, so it is important to discuss your options thoroughly with your doctor beforehand.

Contact us

If you are struggling with heavy periods, get in touch with OneWelbeck and we can support you with a diagnosis and a personalised treatment plan.

We can help you discover the underlying cause of your heavy periods and offer you some simple lifestyle tips and treatments to lighten your periods.