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Heavy Periods: Normal or Not?

Heavy Periods: Normal or Not?

Some women barely notice when they have their monthly periods – but others have symptoms, including heavy bleeding, headaches and mood changes, that make life miserable. The medical term doctors use to describe abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding and related problems is "menorrhagia."

Are Your Periods a Problem?

Menorrhagia is not a "yes" or "no" diagnosis – the true measure is your ability to live normally. If you can't go to work, live life normally or sleep without getting up a bunch of times to deal with your bleeding, your doctor can help. He or she will ask questions and perform some tests to determine what type of treatment may be helpful.

Periods are messy – but average blood loss is actually less than two ounces/month. Iron deficiency (anemia) may become a problem if you lose three ounces or more. Since blood loss isn't easy to measure, you'll be asked whether you are saturating your hygiene products, if so how often, and whether you notice large clots.

Is It Dangerous?

Abnormally heavy bleeding that comes on suddenly may be a sign of ectopic pregnancy, which requires immediate treatment. Some medical issues can cause heavy bleeding, but these are rare. Typically, heavy periods are related to gynecological problems (like fibroids, endometriosis or PCOS/polycystic ovary disease) or age-related hormone changes (adolescence or menopause).

What Are the Treatments?

Since heavy periods are more annoying than dangerous, your doctor will definitely want to know how you feel about the different treatment options available to you.

A typical first step is medication. Choices range from over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen, which reduce blood loss and help with the pain … to medications that promote clotting … to hormone treatments, such as birth control pills.

If medication doesn't help, your doctor may advise one of the following procedures – depending on your age, whether or not you plan to have children and whether there is a physical cause, such as fibroids or cysts.

Treatment options that preserve fertility, for women who want to keep open the option of having a child, include a dilation and curettage, commonly called a "D&C" (dilating the cervix and scraping the lining of the uterus) and hysteroscopy (a minimally invasive way to remove fibroids).

Women who are sure they don't want any more children may consider an endometrial ablation, in which the uterine lining is removed or a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and sometimes, also, the ovaries).

Important to know: Hysterectomy is considered the most effective treatment for menorrhagia. It's not as dramatic as it sounds – today's minimally invasive techniques make it this procedure easier and quicker to recover from than it used to be. Most women are back to their normal lives within a couple of days.

Need a OB/GYN?

Torrance Memorial Physician Network is proud to have an expert team of ob/gyn specialists providing compassionate care of the highest quality. Our physicians, all board-certified obstetrician/gynecologists and office staff are warm, experienced and dedicated to our philosophy of caring for the whole woman.

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