7 things you need to know about heavy periods

Everyone’s period is different, and they can even change throughout our lives. No matter what your body does, your period is probably “normal” for you, but sometimes, changes can be a sign that something bigger is going on. While lighter or skipped periods present their own set of issues, there are a few things people with heavy periods should know. We call a period “heavy” if you have to change your tampon, pad, or menstrual cup around every half hour to hour.

If this happens throughout your cycle, or if there’s any pain involved, it might be best to start journaling your period. Doctors like to work with patterns, so it’s likely that if you go to your ob-gyn, they’ll tell you to wait a few cycles before you start troubleshooting. Start by marking which days are the heaviest, how often you have to refresh your pad or tampon, and anything else that might help track what’s triggering the increased flow.

But just FYI: Heavy periods don’t necessarily mean something is “wrong” with you.

Although heavy bleeding can tell you something about your overall reproductive health, it could also just be how your uterus rolls when it sheds its lining. Either way, there are a few things women with heavy periods need to know to take the best care of themselves.

1Clotting is normal.

Women with heavy periods might notice actual blood clots. This is just your body’s way of controlling bleeding. However, if you notice consistent clotting and the clots are bigger than an inch in diameter, there could be something going on with your uterus, like fibroids or polyps. These are both basically tumors on your uterus, but not cancerous. They’re both treatable but could cause fertility issues later on in life. Clotting can also happen more after a woman gives birth or goes through some other hormonal change. Moreover, 30 to 40% of women with endometriosis experience clotting, so if you have chronic clotting and very uncomfortable or painful periods, tell your doctor ASAP so you can work on treating it.

2It could be menorrhagia.

That word sounds a lot scarier than it is. It really just means Super Official Heavy Bleeding.

If your period lasts longer than a week or you have clots larger than a quarter, your heavy period might have its own name: menorrhagia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, menorrhagia can be caused by many things. Hormonal problems, fibroids or polyps, or problems with a pregnancy can cause menorrhagia. To get this diagnosis, your doctor will run one of a number of tests, like an ultrasound or pap smear. Depending on the result of those tests, there are various ways to treat it—some as simple as taking ibuprofen  or hormonal birth control, some as extreme as surgery. It will all depend on your particular situation.

3You may need to supplement the loss of blood.

When you lose a lot of blood, you’re losing iron and can become anemic. This might mean you feel more exhausted than usual, or you’re experiencing exacerbated mood swings. You can just start taking an iron supplement or eat lots of iron-heavy foods, such as dried fruit, spinach and other dark, leafy greens, white rice, beans, red meat, and seafood. Hey, treating yourself to some sushi or a huge bean burrito is not the worst thing in the world.

4You should watch your meds.

If you take aspirin regularly, that could be the cause of your heavy menstrual bleeding. Other medications, like blood thinners, can cause heavier bleeding, too. For some women, the copper IUD, which is super effective as a birth control, can cause heavier periods in the first year of use, though its long-term effects are safe. If your medicine or birth control is making your period unbearable or affecting your everyday life, talk to your doctor and see what sort of solutions you can come up with. It will be different for everyone.

5Birth control may be the answer.

There are tons of reasons to go on birth control, and one of them is to control heavy bleeding during your period. Although the copper IUD has been known to increase bleeding, other birth controls that contain progesterone can help reduce heavy flows. Heavy periods are often caused by low progesterone, or you’re “anovulatory,” which means that you’re not ovulating at all because of very low progesterone levels. Giving your hormones a little leg up might help slow your heavy bleeding.

6It could be a sign of something more serious.

Although heavy bleeding during your period might just have to do with your hormone levels or benign fibroids or polyps, it could be a sign of cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, or endometriosis. If you’ve tried ibuprofen and birth control and still have major clotting or are losing more than a cup of blood per period, your doctor might do a laparoscopy to diagnose one of those more serious medical conditions.

You’re gonna be okay.

Dealing with periods, especially ones that are too light or too heavy, can  be a huge pain. If your period is getting in the way of your best life, talk to a doctor and see what you can do. In the meantime, practice self-care. Relax in the shower, take a nap, eat a meal filled with iron (and also lots of delicious cheese, just because, if that’s your thing). There’s nothing wrong with your body, although sometimes it can be so high-maintenance.

Stay strong and don’t let your period, whatever kind you have, get the best of you.

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