Periods, heavy (menorrhagia) 

Introduction 

What are periods?

period is part of a woman's menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of a woman's period to the day before her next period. A period is a bleed from the womb (uterus) which is released through the vagina. It happens approximately every 28 days, although anywhere between 24 and 35 days is common.

Periods can begin when girls are between eight and 16 years of age, but usually start around 12 years of age. They continue every month until the menopause (when a woman's periods stop), which usually occurs between 45 and 55 years of age.

Heavy periods, also called menorrhagia, is when a woman loses an excessive amount of blood during consecutive periods.

Menorrhagia can occur by itself or in combination with other symptoms, such as menstrual pain (dysmenorrhoea).

Heavy bleeding does not necessarily mean there is anything seriously wrong, but it can affect a woman physically, emotionally and socially, and can cause disruption to everyday life.

See your GP if you are worried about heavy bleeding during or between your periods.

How much is heavy bleeding?

It is difficult to define exactly what a heavy period is because the amount of blood lost during a period can vary considerably between women.

The average amount of blood lost during a period is 30-40ml (millilitres), with nine out of 10 women losing less than 80ml. Therefore, heavy menstrual bleeding is considered to be 60-80ml or more in each cycle.

However, it is rarely necessary to measure blood loss. Most women have a good idea about how much bleeding is normal for them during their period and can tell when this amount increases or decreases.

A good indication that your blood loss is excessive is if:

  • you feel you are using an unusually high number of tampons or pads
  • you experience flooding (heavy bleeding) through to your clothes or bedding
  • you need to use tampons and towels together

Why do heavy periods happen?

In most cases, no underlying cause of heavy periods is identified. However, some conditions and treatments have been linked to menorrhagia, including:

Read more about the causes of heavy periods.

Diagnosis

Your GP should be able to diagnose heavy periods from your symptoms alone.

The cause of your menorrhagia may sometimes need to be investigated further. Usually, this involves a pelvic examination and a blood test.

If a cause is still not found, then you may have an ultrasound scan.

Read more about diagnosing heavy periods.

Treating heavy periods 

In some cases, heavy periods do not need to be treated, as they can be a natural variation and may not disrupt your lifestyle.

If treatment is necessary, medication is most commonly used first. However, it may take a while to find the medication most suitable for you, as their effectiveness is different for everyone and some also act as contraceptives.

If medication doesn't work, surgery may also be an option.

Read more about treating heavy periods.

Page last reviewed: 10/10/2012

Next review due: 10/10/2014

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Comments

The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

melannecann123 said on 22 June 2014

What does it mean when you have a light pinkish brown colour on your pad but not in your wee (wee is normal colour) a week before a period ?

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maartje said on 21 May 2014

I have suffered extremely heavy, long and completely irregular periods all my life, which kept me off school, constantly interrupted my degree and meant I missed two weeks out of every four of work every month as I couldn't leave the house, in fact I could barely leave the bathroom.

Finally I was diagnosed with endometriosis and very heavy periods.

I am posting here just to say that I had the Mirena IUD fitted and it changed my life! Things will never be like a 'normal' person for me period-wise as I have menstrual migraines, but after a few years my periods were for me so light I only needed to use one pad at a time and I reckon they were like 'normal' people had. It even seemed to keep my endometriosis from building up and my periods became pretty regular and only once a month instead of twice.

Now I've had the Mirena out (it is due to be replaced, which you do once every five years) and after a while my periods have become terrible again. I can't leave the house, again etc

Some people have tummy cramps, more bleeding and acne with the Mirena, but I never did. I do get spots with it, but I'd rather have that than my normal periods. If you don't like the Mirena you can have it taken out at any time.

Just mentioning it in case it helps someone else out there.

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Vanzyl1986 said on 03 September 2013

I have been heavily bleeding now for 5 weeks. I was taken into hospital and had a polyp removed and it was taken for a biopsy which came back clear!

My doctor has me on 4 different medications and nothing is working!
The pain I am getting with this is unbearable to the point I cry, it's affecting my relationship, work and my general health.

Not to mention being emotionally and physically draining.

I've had a smear done, swabs done to check for any diseases and everything has come back normal.

I am now wondering when my doctor is actually going to take this a bit more seriously and realise the huge effect this is having on me?

I really do sympathise with any women out there who are experiencing the same thing.

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kaylabuttons said on 22 May 2013

hello i have been on my period for 6 and a half weeks, i have an implant and my gp has advised me to get it out. i have had my implant for almost 2 years now and i have never experienced problems with it. my period is extremely heaving and painful and it doesnt feel normal does anyone have any suggestions on what may be the cause of my problem

thankyou

ps it is impossible that i may have been pregant as havent had unprotected sex for a while and i do not have any stds as i have been checked

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