If you dread having your period each month, you’re certainly not alone – one in five women between the ages of 25 and 39 have heavy periods, with many of those neglecting to seek medical help – often because they don’t realise it’s a problem.
Here, we break down how to know when it’s time to see your doctor, and the treatment options available.
While every woman is different and no two cycles are the same, gynacaeologist Dr Rachel Green says you should pay attention to the frequency, volume and length of your period. “Your cycle should be between 21 – 35 days in length,” she explains. “So that means you’ll be having a period every 3-5 weeks. An average period lasts 4-7 days, but there’s a massive variation with what’s normal for a woman.”
In terms of volume, most women will lose around two tablespoons of blood each month, according to Green. “I know it seems a lot more than that for most of us!” she says. “But for the average woman, we would anticipate someone would need to change their sanitary protection no more often than every 4-6 hours.”
According to Green, mild cramping is normal, and some women might need to take painkillers, but it certainly shouldn’t be debilitating.
“A red flag for me would be a patient always needing to use heavy-duty painkillers,” she explains.
If you have bleeding between periods or after sex, it’s time to see your doctor. “I would consider those circumstances to be abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB),” explains Green. “I often get referrals from patients who have quite low iron, and for most women, that’s a result of a heavy period or bleeding between periods, though they might not realise that’s the issue.”
While periods can be a nuisance, they shouldn’t stop you from going about your daily life. “When I’m talking to someone about their periods, I see if it’s impacting their ability to go to school or work, and whether or not they need to get up in the middle of the night, either with pain or to have to change their sanitary protection,” says Green.
If you identify with the above, or you find yourself battling with heavy periods each month, it might be time to think about what your options are.
First things first? Your doctor will need to determine the cause of any abnormal uterine bleeding, which can be defined as a period that lasts beyond seven days, occurs more than once a month or is excessively heavy.
“Some women can be treated with hormonal medication, such as the contraceptive pill,” says Green. “But others will need more specialised help.”
If you’ve discussed all options with your doctor, it may be time to try a medical procedure such as endometrial ablation, which removes the lining of the uterus. “A device goes into the uterus and it opens up and its impregnanted with radio-frequency electrodes. It works on a vacuum system and burns away the lining of the womb,” says Green.
While patients report positive results from the procedure, Green warns that it’s not suitable for someone who wants to have a baby. “It destroys the endometrium, which would make a pregnancy very hazardous,” she explains. “But if you’re past your child-bearing years, this could be a great option for you.”