A period that one woman considers abnormally heavy might be another woman's average monthly experience - that's the problem with heavy periods, it's impossible to feel them as someone else does, making the problem difficult to diagnose. This is why the medical experts have come up with a definition.
Menorrhagia is the name for period during which you soak through one pad or tampon every hour for several hours, or for a period that lasts more than a week and a half. If this happens to you once, you probably don't need medical treatment. If this happens to you on a consistent or a regular basis then you should definitely seek medical advice.
Hypermenorrhagia is the name given to a period during which you soak through two or more tampons or pads per hour. If this happens to you, you should see a doctor.
A diagnosis of menorrhagia is based not just on the quantity of blood lost, but also on the length of the period (an "average" period lasts 3 to 7 days during which you lose 3 to 5 tablespoons of blood). Also, if you find yourself -
Using double layers of protection during your period (a tampon and a pad together)
Getting up during the night to change your protection
Noticing large clumps in your menstrual bleed
Feeling dizzy, short of breath and tired
- then you may be suffering from menorrhagia.
Bleeding heavily can be very disconcerting, but there is not necessarily a sinister cause. In rare cases, heavy periods are symptoms of a cancer in the reproductive system, but in fact, heavy bleeds are MUCH more likely to be triggered by a hormonal imbalance.
Unbalanced levels of estrogen and progesterone in the body can cause your ovaries to malfunction and the lining of your uterus to become excessively thick during your cycle. When your period begins, this thick tissue has to be flushed out - this is what causes the heavy bleeding.
Heavy periods can also be caused by non-cancerous growths in the uterus, thyroid disorders, the use of an intrauterine contraceptive device, endometriosis, and taking certain medications (blood thinning meds or anti-inflammatory medicines).
The type of treatment you receive will depend on the severity of your symptoms, your overall state of health, your medical history and your plans for having children. Surgery is an option in the treatment of long-term menorrhagia but only as a last resort. The following treatment methods will more than likely be tried first:
NSAIDs - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), to reduce cramps and bleeding.
Transexamic acid - when two or three transexamic acid pills are taken three or four times a day during heavy bleeding, bleeding can be reduced by as much as 29 to 58%. This is a good option for women who are trying to get pregnant, because the pills have no contraceptive effect.
Iron supplements - these replace the iron lost due to heavy bleeding, and will alleviate any symptoms of dizziness, fatigue and breathlessness.
Hormonal treatments - the contraceptive pill, oral progesterone or a hormonal IUD may be recommended as a way to restore hormonal equilibrium. This can reduce the length of your periods and your blood loss. Of course, this treatment is not suitable if you're hoping to become pregnant.