Treatment Options for Heavy Periods

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Every woman’s period is different, some lasting only a few days with a light flow, others lasting a week with a heavier flow, and everywhere in between. The only thing you can count on: You likely have a relatively similar flow each month.

If you are seeing changes in your menstrual flow, or you’re wondering whether you have what is considered to be heavy menstrual bleeding (also called menorrhagia), it’s natural to feel worried. Relax—we’ve got all the info you need, here.

drops of blood

What Is a “Typical Period”?

Like we said, every woman’s monthly experience is unique, so just because your girlfriend has super-light flow doesn’t automatically mean there’s something up with yours. Still, there are averages. For starters, during a typical period, a woman loses approximately 60 milliliters of blood, which is enough to fill about one and one-half shot glasses, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Your periods may be a little lighter or heavier than this. To be considered menorrhagia, doctors look for blood loss of about 80 milliliters or more.


How to Determine Whether Your Period Is Too Heavy

Because we don’t have a practical way of actually measuring our blood flow, it can be hard to know whether your period is “typical.” However, there are signs you can watch for. For example, you can somewhat measure your flow by how many and how often you change your tampon, pad, or menstrual cup. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, you may have menorrhagia if you: need to change your tampon or pad hourly or need to use a tampon and a pad together for more than a few hours.


More Signs of Heavy Flow

Menorrhagia has a few distinguishing symptoms. Along with frequently changing your protection, you may have:

  • large or heavy clots
  • periods that last for more than one week
  • excessive tiredness or feeling of lethargy during your period
  • anemia (low iron count) from blood loss
  • pain from cramping that interferes with your daily life or causes you to miss school or work
menstrual cycle

Learning About Your Cycle

It can be hard, especially when you’re younger, to understand what’s normal or not when it comes to your period. Younger girls frequently have irregular bleeding in the first few years after menstruation begins. This might make it difficult to determine if “heavy” bleeding occurs; however, the general rule of thumb is that if you need to change protection more than once per hour or wake up several times per night to change protection, you should be evaluated by a doctor.


Keeping Tabs on Heavy Periods

Given that periods flow changes from one person to the next, understanding what your flow means can get a little tricky. There are several steps you can take if you think you have heavy periods. Start by keeping a menstrual flow log for a few months. That means keeping track of how often you change your tampon or pad, how many you use during your period, whether you need to double up on protection, and how long it lasts. Also, write down whether you have cramps and how many days they last for.

gynecologist appointment

Talk With Your Doc

Once you have tracked your periods for a few months, make an appointment with your family physician or gynecologist to discuss how you’re feeling and what your concerns are. Your doctor may request some blood tests to rule out other conditions and see whether your iron levels have been affected. In addition, you will probably have a pelvic examination. Your doctor will look for underlying conditions which may be causing your heavy periods, such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and polyps on the lining of the womb.

iron pills

Treatment for Menorrhagia

In some cases, treatment for menorrhagia is not medically necessary. Making changes to your lifestyle, including what you eat and how you exercise during your period may help alleviate symptoms. But many women do want treatment to help ease the discomfort and the pain from cramping. And in addition to treatments specifically for heavy bleeding, you may need to be treated for secondary problems, such as being given iron supplements for anemia.


More Treatments for Heavy Flow

There are an increasing number of options for treating menorrhagia. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, some of the common treatments include birth control pills to help regulate bleeding patterns, progesterone, anti-inflammatory drugs to help reduce flow and cramping, endometrial ablation or resection (a surgical procedure to destroy or remove a portion of the uterine lining), and a hormonal IUD, which often reduces menstrual flow and cramping. In more extreme cases, after childbearing is complete, a complete hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) may be considered.

talking to doctor

Quality of Life Matters

The bottom line: Heavy bleeding during your period is more than disruptive—it can keep you from living a fully, active life. With more and more medications and treatments available, there is no reason you need to suffer in silence every month. Talk with your doctor about your options and know that a whopping one in five women experiences heavy flow. You are not alone, and treatments are available—talk with your doctor about a plan that makes sense for you.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.