Abnormal Uterine Bleeding: What You Need to Know
Posted byChristine Yu
We’ve all had times when our period has left us feeling like Goldilocks. Occasionally, it’s too long, too short, too heavy or too light. But if you find that your period is frequently longer or heavier than normal or you’re spotting or bleeding between your cycles, you may be experiencing what’s known as abnormal uterine bleeding.
Heavy periods are more than just an inconvenience. They can take a toll — physically, mentally and emotionally. But you’re not alone. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, 9 to 14 percent of women experience irregular bleeding.1 Here’s what you need to know:
What Is Abnormal Bleeding?
While your cycle may be finicky when you first start get your period and when you near menopause, abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) can occur at any age and is common among women of reproductive age. Just as the name suggests, AUB is any bleeding that differs from your normal cycle — whether in amount, how often, timing (such as between your regular periods) or after menopause.2
While everyone’s definition of a normal period may be different, typical menstrual cycles occur every 21 to 35 days and the duration of your flow can range between two to five days. So if your period lasts for longer than normal or you’re experiencing an extremely heavy flow (Think hourly changing of pads or tampons or large blood clots), it may be a sign that something is off.3
What Causes Irregular or Heavy Bleeding?
There are three main causes of AUB:
- Structural abnormalities. Issues related to the structure of the uterus can cause heavy periods. For example, fibroids (noncancerous growths in the muscle walls of the uterus) and polyps (overgrowth of the lining of the uterine) can lead to frequent or unpredictable periods and heavy bleeding. Uterine or cervical cancer can also cause irregular bleeding.4
- Hormone imbalances. A delicate balance of hormones regulates your monthly cycle: estrogen, progesterone, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). If this balance is disrupted, you may not ovulate and the lining of your uterus (endometrium) may continue to build up and not shed completely. Changes in how your body produces hormones can also be affected by medical disorders involving the kidneys, thyroid or liver, or conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and diabetes.5
- Other illnesses. Irregular bleeding can also be caused by other medical conditions, such as endometriosis (an infection of the lining of the uterus), pelvic inflammatory disease, and bleeding disorders (such as von Willebrand disease or platelet function disorder). Using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control may also be associated with atypical bleeding.6
When to See a Doctor
Heavy or irregular periods aren’t something you just have to accept. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and treatment options. It’s the first step to changing your cycle! Your doctor will ask about your medical history and menstrual cycles so it may be a good idea to track your periods before your appointment. While AUB may be more common as you get closer to menopause, if you’ve gone through menopause and are experiencing bleeding, you should consult your doctor promptly.
1Sweet MG, Schmidt-Dalton TA, Weiss PM, Madsen KP, Evaluation and Management of Abnormal Uterine Bleeding in Premenopausal Women. American Family Physician. 85 (2012):35-43. Accessed October 28, 2016. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2012/0101/p35.html
2Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, Abnormal Uterine Bleeding: A Guide for Patients. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.socrei.org/BOOKLET_abnormal_uterine_bleeding/
3Centers for Disease Control, Heavy Menstrual Bleeding. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
4Centers for Disease Control. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
5Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.socrei.org/BOOKLET_abnormal_uterine_bleeding/
6Centers for Disease Control. Accessed October 24, 2016. http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html
- Posted by Christine Yu
- On December 6, 2016