Heavy bleeding during your menstrual cycle can be both frightening and isolating. You may find yourself unable to leave the house for fear that you’ll soak through your tampon or pad and end up in an embarrassing situation. Let’s talk about what’s going on when bleeding is unusually heavy, and what you can do about it. But first, let me share a story about a woman I have worked with that you might be able to identify with.  

After graduating from college, Celeste landed an internship with a public relations company. She was thrilled by this exciting opportunity—but worried about how her difficult periods would affect her work life. She told me, “My bleeding has always been heavy, but lately it’s gotten just ridiculous—and my cramps are so painful that I can’t concentrate on anything else. I’ve been to a couple of gynecologists, but all my tests came back normal. One of them offered to put me on the pill, but I don’t like the side effects. If I have to tough it out, I guess I can— but I really want to figure out what the problem is. I worry that something serious may be going on!”

For Celeste it turned out that imbalanced hormones were her real problem. As you also may have experienced, her menstrual cramps wreaked havoc with her energy, her mood, her psyche, her appearance, her weight, her profession, and her sex life. Celeste had gone to her healthcare practitioner for help, but she hadn’t really received the support she was looking for. Instead, she was given the message that nothing was really wrong, that the problem she faced was just a normal part of a woman’s life.

Thank goodness this isn’t true. Painful periods are often the result of a hormonal imbalance. When your hormones are balanced again, these problems can disappear. And balancing your hormones is surprisingly simple. You’ll be amazed to discover you can do this through a combination of diet, herbs and supplements, lifestyle, and psychological support, in some cases complemented with some gentle bioidentical hormones.

Now at this point, you may be wondering why, if these problems are so real and the solutions are so simple, your own healthcare practitioner hasn’t already given you this information. The answer to that question isn’t so simple. So let’s take a closer look at what might be happening in your body.

Heavy menstrual bleeding and blood clotting are common problems for a lot of women, especially in the perimenopausal years or when the cycle has just begun. When a woman soaks a pad or a tampon in an hour for several hours or more, or if she bleeds for more than a week and a half each month, this is called menorrhagia. If she soaks through two or more pads or tampons in an hour, this is generally considered hypermenorrhagia. These are fancy medical words – but they do have their place.

Excess bleeding such as this can be worrisome when it occurs and, as any woman who has experienced it knows, terribly inconvenient. Remembering to bring a change of clothes or to not wear white during those times seems unfair. It’s a big enough issue that menorrhagia or hypermennorrhagia are a leading reason for elective hysterectomy. As with many other menstrual irregularities, however, the primary cause of heavy periods is most frequently hormonal and/or nutritional imbalances resulting from diet, lifestyle, and stress. This is good news, because it means you can do something about it. And in many cases, substantial menstrual bleeding can be relieved without a surgery or a hysterectomy.

Almost all women will tell you that they have experienced heavy bleeding and/or clotting at some point in their lives. Some women have regular intense menstrual flow. If your periods are heavy on a regular, cyclic basis, then that is what is normal for you.

Or, if you have some irregularities in your flow that go away the following month, there is probably nothing too serious going on. I tell all of my patients that two irregular cycles a year is probably normal for many women. If you encounter extreme menstrual bleeding for two successive months, and this is different than the norm for you, or if your periods are heavy and ongoing in an erratic fashion, it would be good idea for you to check in with your healthcare provider.

Other things associated with menorrhagia and hypermenorrhagia include:

  • A menstrual period that lasts longer than 10 days and is different
  • Menstrual flow that includes large blood clots and that is not your norm
  • Heavy periods that interfere with your regular lifestyle
  • Constant pain in your lower abdomen combined with heavy menstrual periods
  • Tiredness, fatigue, or shortness of breath (symptoms of anemia)

Once you know what’s going on in your body, you can take important steps to regain control and freedom, like Celeste did.  For more information, read our article, “Causes and Treatment of Menorrhagia.”