What are heavy periods?

Heavy menstrual periods are a common problem affecting 1 in 5 women at some time in their lives. Although it rarely causes serious illness, heavy periods can lead to considerable disruption in a woman’s life affecting her social, emotional and physical well being.

The amount of blood lost during a period is difficult to measure. In practice, if a woman’s periods are causing her distress or disruption to her lifestyle over a number of months she should seek advice from her doctor who will assess her symptoms and discuss them with her.

What causes heavy periods?

Often no definite cause is found and the most likely reason is a subtle hormonal imbalance in the womb lining (endometrium). Fibroids are another common cause of heavy periods; they are non-cancerous growths in the womb (uterus). If you have fibroids detected on examination or scan, you may be directly referred to a specialist. Other conditions causing heavy periods are less common but can be diagnosed following assessment.

How are heavy periods assessed?

An ultrasound scan is often necessary to find out if you have an underlying problem with your womb (uterus) or ovaries. You may have a blood test to see if you are anaemic because of losing an excessive amount of blood. Anaemia can make you feel tired and even light headed at times and can be treated with iron supplements.
What treatments are available for heavy menstrual periods?

There are a number of treatments for heavy periods. Initially you should be offered tablets that reduce the amount of bleeding, some are also effective if you suffer from period pain. If you require contraception there are several types of contraception that are effective at reducing or even stopping menstrual bleeding. They include the combined pill, the contraceptive injection and implant.

If medication does not work or is unsuitable then you can consider the ‘Mirena’ intrauterine device which releases a hormone into the womb lining and has a good chance of making your periods very light or stop them completely.

There are also several operations available, including endometrial ablation (removal of the womb lining), myomectomy (removal of fibroids) and in some cases hysterectomy may be considered. The specialist will assess which of these may be suitable in each individual woman.

Your doctor and specialist should explain about all the treatments appropriate for you and the advantages and disadvantages of each one. You will then be able to make your own decision about which treatment you would prefer.

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