Very heavy periods -- the kind that bring excessive bleeding or a frequent need to change tampons or pads -- can be a real distraction from and interruption of day-to-day life. And while an occasional heavy period may not be a problem, when menstruation is always heavy or prolonged, it may be a sign of a condition called menorrhagia. Menorrhagia is not a dangerous condition, yet it can impact the quality of your life when you're trying to manage it.
Fortunately, there are treatments that can help alleviate heavy menstrual bleeding.
Know Your Options
Treatment options for menorrhagia either help to manage symptoms or help to lessen heavy menstrual bleeding. And they can include anything from iron supplements that treat menorrhagia-related anemia to medications and medical procedures that can help reduce bleeding.
Both over-the-counter and prescription medications may be used to help control the symptoms of menorrhagia. Options include:
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): When taken during periods, these medications may make periods lighter and reduce pain and cramps. Read up on the potential side effects of NSAIDs here.
Hormone treatments: A doctor can prescribe birth control pills, progesterone pills, or an intrauterine device (IUD) that releases hormones to help regulate periods and make them lighter. Certain hormone treatments may also help thin the lining of the uterus.
Antifibrinolytics: A prescription antifibrinolytic called tranexamic acid may help make periods lighter.
The aim of most medical procedures is to reduce or remove the endometrium -- the tissue that lines the uterus and produces menstrual blood. This can be accomplished in several ways. But keep in mind that these medical procedures are not ideal for women who still wish to have children.
Ablation: In this procedure, a layer of the uterine lining is destroyed through heat, cold, and/or energy. And it can be done on an outpatient basis. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, about 90% of women experience lighter periods or no periods after receiving endometrial ablation, but it may take a few months for full results to be evident. There is always a possibility of menorrhagia symptoms returning down the road, but this is more likely in younger, rather than older, women.
Dilation and curettage: For this procedure, the doctor scrapes away the internal lining of the uterus.
Hysterectomy: This is the only procedure that stops menstruation permanently in women of reproductive age.
If uterine fibroids are causing your heavy periods, your doctor may recommend different procedures, such as surgery to remove the fibroids or surgery to cut off the blood supply to them.
Choosing the Best Approach
You and your doctor will have to consider a number of factors when choosing the right treatment for your heavy menstrual bleeding, including the cause of your symptoms, your age and health, how much your symptoms affect daily life, and how comfortable you are with the treatment options compared to your prognosis with no treatment. So make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your options.