Heavy or prolonged periods can be uncomfortable, but for some women they may be downright disabling, making it difficult to do everyday activities. If you experience heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding, you may have wondered what could be causing your condition, known as menorrhagia.
What Is Menorrhagia?
Menorrhagia is the medical term doctors use to describe heavy menstrual bleeding or periods that last an unusually long time. It's normal to lose about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood during your period. And the average woman's period lasts 4 to 7 days. But losing twice as much blood as normal or having a period that lasts longer than 7 days may be a sign of menorrhagia.
What Are the Symptoms of Menorrhagia?
Women who suffer from menorrhagia may experience one or all of these distressing symptoms:
- Blood clots in menstrual flow
- The need to change tampons or pads every hour for several hours
- The need to get up at night to change tampons or pads
- The need to double up on products (e.g., wear a tampon and a pad at the same time)
- Fatigue from anemia due to excess blood loss
What Causes Heavy Periods?
Menorrhagia can be caused by a variety of factors, many of which aren't serious. Causes of menorrhagia may include:
- Hormone imbalances
- Implantable birth control devices
- Disorders of the reproductive system, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, uterine fibroids, uterine polyps, endometriosis
- Pelvic infections or tumors
- Liver or kidney problems
- Pregnancy complications
- Thyroid disease
- Bleeding disorders (rare)
What Are the Risk Factors for Menorrhagia?
Any woman who menstruates can experience menorrhagia, but the condition is most common in women who have an imbalance in the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. These hormone imbalances are most common in very young women who have just started menstruating and in women over 40 who may be in perimenopause. Read up on the symptoms of perimenopause.
Smoking or having relatives who suffer from menorrhagia also raises the risk.
Fortunately, there are treatments for menorrhagia that can reduce or eliminate menstrual bleeding. Find out what you can do about heavy menstrual periods.