Heavy periods: what is menorrhagia?
Heavy periods or menorrhagia is a common condition that many women+ may experience. And while “Niagara Falls” flows aren’t exactly something we may look forward to, they aren’t often a cause for concern. Time to take a closer look.
Much like everything else to do with our monthly cycles, the amount of blood in a period varies from person to person. Even for one same person, their menstrual flow can change from cycle to cycle; sometimes you may get just a few little spots of brown blood whilst other months your flow might seem endless. Such heavy menstrual bleeding is known as menorrhagia and though this may sound scary, it’s not something that you should necessarily be panicked about.
If your menstrual flow is often long, heavy, or both, then learning how to deal with it by either using the right period products or figuring out your own little hacks can really help to put your mind at ease and make you feel more comfortable. And if you’re wondering whether your flow is heavy, regular, light or somewhere in between, then keep reading to find out more.
How much bleeding is normal?
If you’ve ever looked down at your towel or tampon when taking it out and thought that you might have enough blood to fill an entire swimming pool, then you’re not alone – but this may not necessarily be accurate. On average, most of us only shed about 2 to 3 tablespoons of blood (30-40ml).  This means we tend to perceive a much bigger amount than it actually is. So what might seem like a particularly heavy menstrual flow could in fact be completely normal.
What counts as a heavy period?
On the other hand, flows that measure about 5 tablespoons (80ml) or last longer than 7 days are no longer considered normal.  Now, it’s probably unlikely that you’ll have the time or even the equipment to take all your menstrual blood and measure it, so luckily there are a few other ways you can also tell if your period is on the heavier side. For example, if there is enough blood to soak up a pad or tampon every hour for several hours in a row.  Also, heavy periods tend to include thick blood clots (pieces of bloody tissue) and/or have the ability to stain your clothing or bedding even when using period products.
What causes heavy periods?
In a nutshell, there is no simple answer for what causes heavy menstruation. No underlying condition is found in about half of women who experience this kind of flow.  But there are a few reasons that might explain your heavy periods:
Conditions that cause hormone imbalances have the ability to affect your menstrual flow. This is because hormones (especially oestrogen and progesterone) are basically in charge of everything to do with your periods, so if something’s off with them, then your monthly flow may start acting a little differently too. Conditions such as PCOS, endometriosis, thyroid problems and stress can all cause periods to last longer and/or be heavier.
Other health conditions and medical treatments
A period is basically extra uterus lining that gets shed through the vagina. This means that other health conditions which cause growths in the uterus such as fibroids or polyps can make periods heavier too. It is also possible for some types of contraception such as the copper IUD to make periods heavier for the first 3 to 6 months after insertion, before they regulate themselves.
What can I do when my periods feel heavier than usual?
Just because our periods may only feel heavier than they actually are, it doesn’t stop them from sometimes getting in the way of day-to-day life. Many of us have been there: constantly checking our trousers in the mirror or waking up in a panic in the middle of the night, only to breathe a sigh of relief when we realise our period is actually behaving for a change. You may have even cancelled plans, just because you’re scared of any potential mishaps. And while science hasn’t found a way to switch periods off at our will, there are a few things you can try to make it easier on the days where your period may feel a slightly heavier than usual.
Listen to your body
Even though heavy periods are common and not always as a result of an underlying condition, it’s important that you keep track of period flow fluctuations. Keeping a notepad to jot down cycle length or even using an app or period tracker tool can really help you notice any sudden changes with your period. And if you do feel like your period is suddenly acting differently or are experiencing extreme PMS symptoms that you aren’t used to, then it may be a good idea to check in with your doctor for a medical opinion – even if it ends up being nothing, sometimes it can be nice to have that feeling of reassurance that everything is ok.
Use pads and other period products specially designed for heavy periods
Finding the best period product that is right for you and your flow can be a real game-changer in terms of making you feel more relaxed and comfortable on your period. So whether that means experimenting with different absorbency pads or tampons, or even trying out pads with wings for a more secure fit, finding the period products that make you feel great and help manage your individual flow can really make a real difference when dealing with heavy periods.
Ask a doctor for advice
Even though we’ve found out that most of the time your period will feel much heavier than it actually is, it may be the case that you do have actual heavy periods. If you have noticed that you are consistently staining your clothes or bed sheets despite using period products or if you often seen thick lumps of blood when on your period, then it may be a good idea to make an appointment with your doctor. And while this still may mean that there is nothing wrong or to be worried about, if your periods are stressing you out or getting in the way of living your life, then seeing a doctor can be really helpful and reassuring.
Everyone’s period flow will change throughout the course of their lives; from your first period to perimenopause and every point in between! And while dealing with heavier flows can be frustrating to manage, learning more about your period and recognising when something may be a little off is great way of feeling in control and aware of what may be going on in your body. It’s also helpful to remember that practice does make perfect – getting used to your flow and finding out how to best manage it for you and your body really will go a long way. And if you are concerned (no matter how big or small your worry may be), you can always go and ask for a medical opinion from your doctor.
If you want to find out more about your period and the ways in which it might affect you, why not check out or pages on what helps period pain and what causes period pain?
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.