Having a very heavy period flow is not necessarily problematic until it interferes with your life. In this case, you might have menorrhagia, but hey, do not panic. It is fairly common and, for the most part, treatable.
What is menorrhagia?
Menorrhagia is the former medical term for abnormally heavy and/or prolonged menstrual bleeding. Another name for menorrhagia is hypermenorrhoea.
Menorrhagia might also entail irregular or too-frequent periods, or intermenstrual bleeding – that is, between periods. Nowadays, menorrhagia is more usually called heavy menstrual bleeding and is considered to be a type of abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB). For simplicity, we’ll still call it menorrhagia.
Symptoms of menorrhagia
The most common symptoms of menorrhagia are:
- Soaking through at least one tampon or period pad every hour for at least two consecutive hours;
- Bleeding for more than 7 days;
- Passing large blood clots (larger than a coin);
- Needing to change menstrual products during the night, several times;
- Tiredness, lack of energy or shortness of breath;
- Persistent pain in the lower abdomen during periods.
Menorrhagia vs. heavy flow
If your period flow is heavy, you might think you have menorrhagia. However, keep in mind menorrhagia is an abnormally heavy flow.
A normal menstrual flow that lasts on average 5 days has a total blood flow of 5 to 80 mL. A heavy flow is around the 50 mL mark.
Menorrhagia, on the other hand, is characterised by a blood loss larger than 80 mL in total. Check how heavy your flow is.
What causes menorrhagia and who’s at risk?
There aren’t really ways to prevent menorrhagia, but there are some conditions that might cause it such as:
- Uterine fibroids, which are normally painless;
- Coagulation defects, also painless but very, very rare;
- Endometrial polyps or cancer;
- Pelvic inflammatory disease;
- Endometriosis, which is normally very painful;
- Pregnancy complication;
- Polycystic ovary syndrome or other ovarian dysfunctions;
- Thyroid disease;
Menorrhagia can happen at any age. However, it seems to be linked to recently menstruated teens, pre-menopausal women, or women who suffer from bleeding disorders or gynaecological pathologies. Obesity is also a risk factor for menorrhagia.
Living with menorrhagia
Menorrhagia, although not necessarily a serious condition, can seriously impact a person’s life.
Living with menorrhagia can be challenging. Due to the (very) heavy menstrual flow, people who deal with menorrhagia have to use double protection often, like a tampon or a menstrual cup and a pad.
Sometimes the bleeding is so heavy and/or prolonged that it disrupts their entire lives, especially if associated with a painful condition like endometriosis.
At the same time, due to having to wake up during the night to change menstrual products, a person living with menorrhagia can also go through sleep deprivation during their period, causing them to feel ill, tired, weak or depressed.
Finally, menorrhagia can, due to excessive blood loss, cause anaemia in the long run.
Do you know what the colour of your period blood means?
There isn’t one sole treatment for menorrhagia. It depends on how serious your bleeding is, what is its cause, if you have underlying health issues, or if you have any allergies to certain meds. If you do not suffer from anaemia or strong pain, you can choose to not have any treatment. The common treatments for menorrhagia are those who focus on reducing the bleeding such as:
- Hormonal birth control
- Hormone therapy
- Intrauterine contraception (UID)
- Anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen
In case you suffer from anaemia, you will most likely need iron supplements. Sometimes, if menorrhagia is connected to a disorder, treating the disorder will improve or eliminate menorrhagia. In rare cases, a hysterectomy – removing of the uterus – can be the only solution.
Tips and advice
Managing menorrhagia is basically being prepared and anticipating.
- Keep extra pads and tampons at work and school if you can;
- Always carry pads and tampons with you, for example, in a Ziploc bag;
- Double up: complement your tampon or menstrual cup with a more absorbent pad;
- Remember to plan around your period – for restaurants, nights out, picnics, etc – making sure you have access to a bathroom, plenty of menstrual products and some wipes;
- Use a menstrual cup with a larger size;
- If you are environmentally conscious, it can be hard for you to generate so much period waste. Check tips for a nearly zero-waste period.
Make your period box now! You can choose from a range of menstrual products in various sizes to fit your needs, and mix-match them as you like.
Take good care. Of your vagina. Of yourself. Of our planet.