Published on May 15, 2020
Authored by Feisia Dam, BPharm(Hons)
Bleeding through a pad or tampon every 1-2 hours could mean heavy periods. In fact, what one woman considers "normal" could actually be "heavy" in medical terms. Studies have shown that women have very different perceptions of what a heavy period is. We are here to set the record straight. In this article, we help you understand what is considered heavy menstrual bleeding, why it happens, what to look out for, and when it becomes vital to seek help from the doctor.
Menorrhagia is the medical term used to refer to heavy menstrual bleeding or prolonged menstrual bleeding. Traditionally, doctors will diagnose a woman with menorrhagia if she usually loses more than 80ml of blood each period or periods that last longer than 7 days. This excessive blood loss can have a considerable impact on the quality of your life.
While there are the medical definitions, as mentioned above, experts have given more practical advice on what to watch out for:
Women talk about the sense of anxiety when they're out, or in a meeting, and feeling like they're about to bleed through their sanitary products and must escape to the toilet immediately.
Heavy periods are often related to an underlying medical condition. That is why if you think you have heavy periods, you should talk to the doctor about it. Some reasons include uterine abnormalities, hormone imbalances, certain medications, malignancies, bleeding disorders and pre-menopause. In some cases, the cause is unknown.
Yes, heavy periods can make you tired. Here's why.
Given that when you lose blood, your body also loses some iron. People with heavy periods over time can develop iron deficiency, and if untreated, iron deficiency anaemia. As a result, the body doesn't have the required iron reserves to create enough healthy red blood cells. Since red blood cells carry oxygen to fuel the cells throughout the body, iron deficiency anaemia can leave you feeling tired, pale, and short of breath.
If you are worried about heavy menstrual bleeding, you should talk to your GP. They will ask you questions to better understand your health, do a blood test and may also do a physical exam.
Get prepared for your appointment by recording some facts about your menstrual cycle and symptoms. Information such as:
It is even more helpful if you can jot this down over a few cycles. You could consider using a period tracker app to help. By collecting this information, your doctor will have a better understanding of what’s going on.
Moreover, your doctor might ask you about:
Now that your doctor has more precise information about your symptoms, it's time for you to raise some questions of your own.
These questions can help guide the conversation with your doctor about how best to manage your heavy periods.
Click here to download the questions and note down any additional ones that you might have. Take it along to your appointment so you can get the most out of the time with your doctor.
Last updated: 15/08/2019
Last reviewed: 15/08/2019
-Royal Women’s Hospital: Heavy Periods
-Family Planning New Zealand: Abnormal Periods
-Health Navigator New Zealand