Although heavy periods do not necessarily mean there is anything seriously wrong, the effect on your life can be distressing and there are treatments available which can help.
Periods vary greatly from woman to woman but most people lose between 30 and 40 millilitres of blood during one period. Heavy menstrual bleeding is considered to be anything more than 60 millilitres in one cycle1. If your periods are consistently heavy, or if the amount of blood you lose is unusually high over several periods, there are treatments available to manage this.
Causes of heavy periods
It is common for women of all ages to experience heavy periods and there are many reasons why it happens. In most cases there is no underlying health issue which is the cause of the problem; for women in adolescence or menopause, a hormone imbalance is the most common cause of heavy menstrual bleeding.
For some women, particularly those in their 30s and 40s and who have had children, non-cancerous growths such as uterine fibroid tumours, cervical polyps or endometrial polyps may be causing the heavy bleeding. Heavy periods are also a possible symptom of cancer of the cervix (the opening between the uterus and the vagina) or of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus)2. To find out more about different cancer types visit our cancer care hub and if you are worried or concerned make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible.
Diagnosing the problem
If you have heavy periods, or if you have noticed a recent increase in the amount of blood you lose, you should make an appointment with your GP. Signs of heavy menstrual bleeding include needing to replace your tampon or sanitary towel more often than usual and bleeding through to your clothes or sheets while you are asleep1.
Your doctor is unlikely to consider it necessary to measure the amount of blood you are losing. Treatment starts with a consultation to find the underlying cause of your heavy periods. If you are aged over 45 or are experiencing bleeding between your periods, you may be recommended for a biopsy of the endometrium (lining of the womb). Endometrial cancer is rare in women who have not gone through the menopause but it’s important to rule this out as a potential cause3.
Medical treatment options
The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends that heavy periods should be treated in the first instance with non-surgical options. Hormonal treatments work well for many women to regulate the menstrual cycle, shorten your periods and reduce the amount of blood you lose. These include the combined oral contraceptive pill (the Pill), progestogen pills and progestogen intra-urine devices.
If you are keen to avoid hormone products, or these are unsuitable to treat your condition, you can take other medications to ease the blood flow during your periods. Tranexamic acid regulates heavy periods by encouraging the blood to clot and mefenamic acid is an effective anti-inflammatory which makes your periods lighter and helps to control period pain which may often accompany heavy periods3.
Treating heavy periods with surgery
If none of these treatment options work for you, you may be offered surgery. A hysterectomy used to be a common procedure for women who suffered with heavy periods due to serious underlying causes such as uterine fibroid tumours. However, it is now far less common thanks to the development of (endometrial ablation) link operations.
The aim of an endometrial ablation operation is to remove the lining of the uterus to a depth where it does not re-grow. We also have a system called NovaSure which is one of the least invasive forms of endometrial ablation operation. After this procedure, 90% of women experience normal or light periods.
Novasure is only suitable for women who do not want to have children in the future, but you can have this procedure regardless of whether or not you have given birth previously. It is a safe and convenient operation, and much less invasive than a traditional hysterectomy. Usually you will only have to stay in hospital for one day and most women are able to return to normal life very quickly4.
We recommend that you read more about NovaSure endometrial ablation and speak to a consultant about which treatment is right for you.
To find out more call us on 0808 101 0337 or make an online enquiry.