At some point, most women experience heavy bleeding during their period. Some women, however, suffer from such heavy periods that it interferes with their lives. They miss work or are afraid to leave the house during their periods. One medical term for these abnormally heavy and prolonged periods is menorrhagia.
What qualifies as an abnormally heavy period? Having to change your pad or tampon more than every one or two hours; a period that lasts longer than a full week; and/or flow that includes large blood clots are all included in this definition.
One of the most common causes of menorrhagia or heavy menstrual bleeding is a hormonal imbalance that brings on menstrual cycles but not ovulation. This can happen during adolescence or menopause. During adolescence, after girls have their first periods, and for several years before the onset of menopause when menstruation stops, hormones levels are fluctuating and that can lead to excessive uterine bleeding during menstrual periods.
Other causes for heavy flow include:
Uterine fibroids have been known to cause heavier than normal or prolonged menstrual bleeding. These often benign tumors of the uterus appear during your thirties or forties.
Uterine polyps – small, benign growths – on the lining of the uterine wall may cause heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding. They typically occur in women of reproductive age with high hormone levels.
Adenomyosis occurs when glands from the endometrium become embedded in the uterine muscle and then cause heavy bleeding and pain. This generally develops in middle-aged woman who have had several children.
IUDs or intrauterine devices used for contraception are a potential cause of heavy menstrual bleeding or menorrhagia. When an IUD is the cause of excessive menstrual bleeding, you should have the device removed.
Rarely, but sometimes, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer and cervical cancer can cause excessive menstrual bleeding.
Some bleeding disorders – such as von Willebrand's disease – can cause abnormal menstrual bleeding.
Certain drugs, including anti-inflammatory medications and anticoagulants, can contribute to heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding.
Women who suffer from heavy or prolonged periods should talk with their health care providers as there are many effective treatments.
Birth control pills or other medicines can be helpful in treating this condition. Oral contraceptives help regulate menstrual cycles and reduce occurrences of excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding.
Several surgical treatments are also available including dilation and curettage, endometrial ablation, uterine artery embalization, uterine balloon therapy, and hysterectomy.
Stacy Lloyd is a writer and video producer. A former television news journalist, she covered stories around the world. Currently, she produces corporate and non-profit videos and broadcast programming.