The first thing to know about heavy periods is you’re not alone if you have them – one in five women suffer from periods that keep them from living life to the fullest.1 The medical term for heavy periods is abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB), and it’s usually defined as excessively long or heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle.1
There are several common causes of heavy periods, including fibroids, polyps and hormonal imbalances.1 Fibroids are noncancerous tissue growths in the muscle walls of the uterus, while polyps in the uterus are small, protruding bits of tissue that grow on the lining of the uterus. Visit our page on fibroids for more information on this common cause of heavy periods.
Hormonal imbalances of estrogen or progesterone can also lead to heavy periods. These hormones can build up the endometrium, which is shed during your period, and a thicker lining can result in heavier blood flow.2
Other causes of heavy bleeding include pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), thyroid disease, liver or kidney disease, or bleeding disorders like von Willebrand disease (characterized by an impaired ability of the blood to clot).1 Rarely, heavy bleeding is possibly related to cancer of the uterus or cervix.1 The risk is greater for women who are overweight, as this can lead to hormone imbalances.2
So what exactly is considered normal vs. abnormal bleeding? And when is it time to talk to your doctor about It? Here are a few distinctions that should clue you into whether or not you may be experiencing abnormal uterine bleeding:
- Blood lost: 2-3 tablespoons
- Bleeding lasts 4-5 days for most women
- Bleeding lasts longer than 7 days
- Your period affects your daily activities
- You need to change your tampon/pad frequently
- You pass clots the size of a quarter or larger
We also know that heavy periods mean more than just heavy bleeding. Suffering from heavy periods can affect you in a number of ways:3
- Feeling tired and nauseated
- Bad cramps
- Missing social or athletic events
- Avoiding sex
- Missing work
- Depression or moodiness
- Feeling anxious
- A lack of confidence during your period
The blood loss resulting from heavy bleeding can also cause iron-deficiency anemia, which means the iron levels in the body are low. Weakness and fatigue are common symptoms of mild anemia; more severe anemia can also cause shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, lightheadedness and headaches.1
While what characterizes a “normal” period can vary, experts agree: If you think your period is a problem, you should talk with a doctor about evaluation and treatment.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heavy menstrual bleeding. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html. Accessed February 19, 2019.
- Mayo Clinic. Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding). https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menorrhagia/symptoms-causes/syc-20352829. Accessed February 19, 2019.
- Hologic, Inc. Data on File; AUB Patient Journey Research, conducted January 2017. Survey of 1,003 women who self-identified as currently or recently experiencing heavy bleeding with need to change feminine hygiene product every hour or more.
- Winchester Hospital (Lahey Health System). Health Library: Vitamin K. http://www.winchesterhospital.org/health-library/article?id=21883. Accessed February 19, 2019.
- Mayo Clinic. Iron deficiency anemia. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/iron-deficiency-anemia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355034. Accessed February 19, 2019.
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