Heavy periods, or menorrhagia, are the cause of a staggering five million UK sick days each year, according to new figures from Wear White Again.
The site, which is dedicated to raising awareness of menorrhagia, said 73% of women with heavy periods admit to lying about their reason for taking time off work, with almost half (44%) preferring to cite diarrhoea as the cause.
Dr Dawn Harper – of ‘Embarassing Bodies’ fame – says heavy periods, which affect one in five women, are “underreported”.
“Women don’t realise that it’s a medical condition and often don’t feel comfortable talking about it,” she explains. “Whilst there are a number of potential causes of heavy periods, with an informed conversation, GPs can help diagnose and where relevant, talk through treatment options.
“Educating yourself and providing GPs with as much information about your cycle and symptoms will help to address the issue as quickly as possible.”
What is menorrhagia?
Menorrhagia is the medical term for when a woman has unusually heavy periods, losing a lot of blood. It can sometimes coincide with other symptoms, such as intense period pain.
“Usually, there is nothing wrong, and it is a normal variation,” Dr Helen Webberley, who runs the online healthcare service My Web Doctor, tells HuffPost UK.
“However sometimes hormonal changes, or issues such as infection, fibroids, endometriosis and contraceptives can cause heavier bleeding.”
Heavy bleeding can affect a woman physically and emotionally, disrupting daily life. If you experience it, it’s worth visiting your GP who may prescribe something to help ease your flow.
:: A heavy flow that keeps you from doing normal activities or stops you from working.
:: Bleeding that lasts more than seven days per cycle.
:: Using an unusually high number of tampons or pads in a day.
:: Regularly leaking through to your clothes or bedding.
:: Having to use tampons and towels together.
According to the NHS, the average amount of blood lost during a period is 30 to 40ml. Heavy menstrual bleeding is considered to be 60ml or more in each cycle.
Heavy bleeding can be caused by a number of underlying issues, which is why it’s always important to get checked by your GP. According to the NHS, some of these conditions include:
:: Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
:: Fibroids (non-cancerous growths in or around the womb)
:: Adenomyosis (where tissue from the womb lining becomes embedded in the wall of the womb)
:: Endometriosis (where small pieces of the womb lining are found outside the womb)
:: Underactive thyroid (where the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormones)
:: Cervical or endometrial polyps (non-cancerous growths in the lining of the womb or cervix)
:: Blood clotting disorders like Von Willebrand disease
:: In very rare cases, it could be caused by womb cancer
:: Medical treatments such as the copper coil (an IUD / contraceptive), chemotherapy and anticoagulant medication (used to prevent blood clots) can also cause heavy periods.
Dr Helen Webberley says: “Any bleeding that causes a big inconvenience would be regarded as heavy for that woman, and she should discuss options with her doctor who will rule out any causes for which there might be a remedy.
“Examples might include a straightforward hormonal pill or coil solution (IUS), or sometimes medicines such as mefenamic acid or tranexamic acid can help.”
The aim of treatment is usually to reduce the loss of blood from the body. Following an examination, and possibly an ultrasound scan, women will often be advised to try the coil (an IUS) “if no structural abnormality is found”, according to Aly Dilks, clinical director at The Women’s Health Clinic.
An IUS is a small plastic T-shaped device that continuously releases a small amount of the hormone progestogen, which interferes with implantation and thickens cervical mucus to act as a barrier to sperm. It requires a simple procedure, carried out by a doctor or nurse, to insert it into the uterus, and can make periods lighter or stop altogether. Some women may experience headaches, acne and breast tenderness after having the device fitted.
Mefenamic acid is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug which is usually taken three times a day. It has been shown to reduce blood flow by 20-50%. Side effects include heartburn, upset stomach and headache.
Tranexamic acid is also taken three times a day. It works by helping the blood in the womb to clot and has been found to reduce blood loss by roughly 50%. Side effects include sickness, low blood pressure and diarrhoea.
It’s worth noting that if your heavy period is caused by an underlying issue such as fibroids or endometriosis, your doctor will get to the root of the problem and treat you accordingly.
Aly Dilks warns that very heavy blood loss can cause anaemia, so it’s important to get your blood count checked if you’re feeling tired and worn out.
“Women with symptoms such as breathlessness, fainting, feeling cold or pallor (looking pale) should see their GP for an urgent blood test to exclude anaemia,” she tells HuffPost UK.
Dr Webberley concludes: “The message to women is clear, you know your own body best. If your periods change and become heavier than they used to be then you should have this checked out.”