Heavy Periods (Menorrhagia)

1 in 5 (20%) of women experience unusually heavy periods[1]National Women’s Health Resource Center. Survey of women who experience heavy menstrual bleeding Data on file; 2005. Menorrhagia, heavy periods that occur over a number of cycles, is one of the most common gynaecological complaints. Some women experience it from a young age, but many women only experience it after the ages of 30 or 40 e.g. after stopping the pill or after having children. Fortunately, it’s not a life-threatening condition, but excessive loss of blood, prolonged and irregular periods and bleeding between periods can have a dramatic impact on your life. Menorrhagia is recognised as a medical condition and it is treatable. Your GP can discuss the available treatment options with you.

The impact of heavy periods

Heavy periods impact all aspects of the lives of women with this condition. The physical consequences include fatigue and anaemia caused by iron deficiency, reduced immunity and severe pain. They can also have a psychological impact such as depression, moodiness, anxiety and lack of confidence. There are wider consequences too, such as having to call in sick, avoiding going out, and skipping the gym, as well as the constant fear of leaking and the embarrassment this can cause.

As soon as you start planning your activities around your periods, it is time to do something. Sometimes enough is simply enough.

View the symptoms and causes of heavy periods below, or go straight to the overview of treatments.

A recent survey of women who have or who have had heavy bleeding found that due to heavy periods:[2]Survey of 1,000 women who have or had experienced heavy bleedings in the UK during July 17. Funded by Hologic Inc
• 62% did not realise heavy periods are a medical condition
• 74% have experienced anxiety, 69% depression and 49% anaemia
• 72% said it affected their sex life
• 43% have missed work as a result of heavy periods
• 58% feel they are unable to carry out their usual daily routine
• 50% have never been to see a GP about heavy periods

Normal bleeding

  • Having to change your pad or tampon every 4-5 hours
  • A menstrual cycle of approx. 21-35 days
  • A period of 4-7 days
  • Use of a single tampon or pad is sufficient
  • Heavy bleeding

  • Changing your pad or tampon more frequently than every 4-5 hours
  • A menstrual cycle of less than 21 days
  • A period of longer than 7 days
  • Doubling up of protection needed
  • Causes of heavy periods

    There is no single cause of heavy periods (menorrhagia). Many women only experience it after the age of 30-40 e.g. after stopping the pill or having children. It can also be caused by polyps or fibroids. It is important that you are checked to rule out any abnormalities.

    Click on the blue droplets below to find out more about the causes.

    Hormonal imbalances
    1 Hormonal imbalances

    Hormonal imbalances

    Heavy periods are often caused by an imbalance in the production of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

    More information Close
    Intramural fibroids
    2 Intramural fibroids

    Intramural fibroids

    An intramural fibroid grows wholly within the uterine wall. In general, fibroids are not dangerous, but they can cause symptoms.

    More information Close
    Polyps
    3 Polyps

    Polyps

    Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the uterus (womb). Also known as myomas, leiomyomas or fibromas, they can occur singly or in large numbers. Fibroids are made up of muscle and fibrous tissues and vary in size - they can be as small as an apple pip, or as large as a grapefruit. There are different kinds, depending on where they are located.

    More information Close
    Submucosal fibroids
    4 Submucosal fibroids

    Submucosal fibroids

    A fibroid, also called a myoma, is a benign cyst in or on the uterus. It is not clear exactly why fibroids develop.

    More information Close
    Thicker Womb (Endometrium) Lining?
    5 Thicker Womb (Endometrium) Lining?

    Thicker Womb (Endometrium) Lining?

    The endometrium is also known as the womb lining. It consists of 2 layers, namely the basal layer, which is always present, and the functional layer, which is shed during a period.

    More information Close
    Subserosal fibroids
    6 Subserosal fibroids

    Subserosal fibroids

    Submucosal fibroids grow partly within the uterine wall and partly within the uterus itself. In general, fibroids are not dangerous. However, they can cause symptoms such as pressure on the bladder, lower back pain, pain during lovemaking, period pain, bleeding between periods, and heavy bleeding.

    More information Close
    Bleeding disorders
    7 Bleeding disorders

    Bleeding disorders

    Very rarely, heavy periods are caused by bleeding disorders such as Von Willebrand’s disease or haemophilia.

    More information Close
    Endometriosis
    8 Endometriosis

    Endometriosis

    Endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition that causes heavy and painful periods. It occurs when small pieces of the womb lining (endometrium) are found elsewhere in the body, outside the womb, such as in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder or vagina.

    More information Close
    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
    9 Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

    Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

    PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work and can cause irregular periods. Polycystic simply means that there are multiple cysts (follicles) on the ovaries. These cysts are tiny fluid filled sacs on the ovary that grow to contain an egg.

    More information Close
    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
    10 Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

    PID is an infection in the upper genital tract (the womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries) that can cause pelvic or abdominal pain, heavy periods and bleeding after sex or between periods. It is a common condition, but often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms.

    More information Close
    Adenomyosis
    11 Adenomyosis

    Adenomyosis

    Adenomyosis is a condition where the cells of the lining of the womb (endometrium) are found in the muscle wall of the womb (myometrium). Around 1 in 10 women will have adenomyosis.

    More information Close
    Base uterus
    • Hormonal imbalances

      Hormonal imbalances

      Heavy periods are often caused by an imbalance in the production of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone.

      More information
    • Intramural fibroids

      Intramural fibroids

      An intramural fibroid grows wholly within the uterine wall. In general, fibroids are not dangerous, but they can cause symptoms.

      More information
    • Polyps

      Polyps

      Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the uterus (womb). Also known as myomas, leiomyomas or fibromas, they can occur singly or in large numbers. Fibroids are made up of muscle and fibrous tissues and vary in size - they can be as small as an apple pip, or as large as a grapefruit. There are different kinds, depending on where they are located.

      More information
    • Submucosal fibroids

      Submucosal fibroids

      A fibroid, also called a myoma, is a benign cyst in or on the uterus. It is not clear exactly why fibroids develop.

      More information
    • Thicker Womb (Endometrium) Lining?

      Thicker Womb (Endometrium) Lining?

      The endometrium is also known as the womb lining. It consists of 2 layers, namely the basal layer, which is always present, and the functional layer, which is shed during a period.

      More information
    • Subserosal fibroids

      Subserosal fibroids

      Submucosal fibroids grow partly within the uterine wall and partly within the uterus itself. In general, fibroids are not dangerous. However, they can cause symptoms such as pressure on the bladder, lower back pain, pain during lovemaking, period pain, bleeding between periods, and heavy bleeding.

      More information
    • Bleeding disorders

      Bleeding disorders

      Very rarely, heavy periods are caused by bleeding disorders such as Von Willebrand’s disease or haemophilia.

      More information
    • Endometriosis

      Endometriosis

      Endometriosis is a chronic and debilitating condition that causes heavy and painful periods. It occurs when small pieces of the womb lining (endometrium) are found elsewhere in the body, outside the womb, such as in the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder or vagina.

      More information
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

      Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

      PCOS is a common condition that affects how a woman’s ovaries work and can cause irregular periods. Polycystic simply means that there are multiple cysts (follicles) on the ovaries. These cysts are tiny fluid filled sacs on the ovary that grow to contain an egg.

      More information
    • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

      Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

      PID is an infection in the upper genital tract (the womb, fallopian tubes or ovaries) that can cause pelvic or abdominal pain, heavy periods and bleeding after sex or between periods. It is a common condition, but often doesn’t cause any obvious symptoms.

      More information
    • Adenomyosis

      Adenomyosis

      Adenomyosis is a condition where the cells of the lining of the womb (endometrium) are found in the muscle wall of the womb (myometrium). Around 1 in 10 women will have adenomyosis.

      More information
    Treating heavy periods

    Treating heavy periods

    There are a range of potential treatments for heavy periods. Find out more here.

    View treatments
    Experiences
      • Claire (58) Was suffering from multiple fibroids
        "My periods gradually got worse over the years as I got older. I just felt so tired all the time. When you feel tired, you don’t feel that you’re in the right state of mind!"
      • Donna (47) Had anaemia due to heavy periods
        “On some occasions I would literally be in and out of the toilet for hours on end. I am normally such a confident, sociable person that I found being in this situation totally alien to me and highly embarrassing.”
      • Maria (51) Periods changed following childbirth
        "I was at my wits end. I experienced terrible back and abdominal pain that no pain killers could alleviate. I experienced heavy menstrual bleeding practically non-stop for a whole month and was feeling drained, miserable and snappy, so I finally went to see my GP”
      • Anna (27) Had a fibroid
        "My periods had always been normal. Until about three years ago. I thought it would pass, but it only became worse. I eventually saw a gynaecologist.”
      • Vera (32) Her periods changed completely after childbirth
        “I did not know what had hit me when I had my first period after childbirth. My periods were suddenly very heavy, there was blood everywhere. It felt as though I was having contractions, even though that was naturally impossible.”
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