It can be hard to know if you have heavy periods, medically known as menorrhagia. Periods vary so much between women that what’s normal for you may be heavy for someone else.
However, as a general rule, you have heavy periods if you experience heavy bleeding or bleeding for more than seven days. Signs that you have heavy bleeding include soaking through your sanitary products in an hour or needing to use more than one at the same time eg a tampon and a pad.
Heavy periods can take an emotional and physical toll on you. It’s therefore important to seek help from your GP. If you experience unusually heavy periods for more than a month or two or feel exhausted during your periods, it’s time to see your GP.
They can help you decide what steps to take to reduce your bleeding and ease any other symptoms. This may include trying home remedies, making dietary changes, taking medication, or in rare cases when all other treatments have failed, surgery.
You should see your GP urgently if you’re nearing menopause and have irregular, heavy periods or are past menopause and have vaginal bleeding.
If you aren’t near or past menopause and notice that your periods have been significantly heavier than usual for one or two months, see your GP.
Signs that your periods are heavy include:
As heavy periods can also cause anaemia, look out for signs such as extreme tiredness (fatigue), shortness of breath and pale skin. These are all signs that you have lost more blood than your body can cope with and you’ll need treatment.
Your GP will work with you to put together a treatment plan that fits with your lifestyle and reduces your symptoms as much as possible.
If you’re wondering what foods make your period lighter, unfortunately, the short answer is none. There is no evidence that changing your diet and taking supplements alone will reduce heavy bleeding during your periods. However, staying hydrated and eating a diet rich in nutrients can help ease or prevent some of the other symptoms of heavy periods, such as fatigue and anaemia.
Here are three ways you can adapt your diet to help with heavy periods.
Eat more foods rich in vitamin C
Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron. Heavy bleeding during your period will mean you are losing iron, as it’s carried by your red blood cells. Lose too much blood every month and you may develop iron-deficiency anaemia. Vitamin C can help protect against this.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
Eat more foods rich in iron
As we mentioned earlier, heavy bleeding during your period can cause you to lose too much iron. It’s therefore important to get more iron from your diet.
Foods rich in iron include:
If you find it challenging to introduce foods rich in vitamin C and iron into your diet, you can take supplements instead. However, you should speak to your GP before taking any supplements. They can advise you on whether they are necessary and if they are, whether you need to take stronger prescription supplements. They will also advise you on side effects and whether supplements will interfere with any other medications you’re taking.
Losing too much blood during your periods can reduce the total amount of blood flowing around your body (blood volume). Staying hydrated can help maintain your blood volume. So make sure you drink four to six extra glasses of water each day of your period.
There are several natural remedies to treat the symptoms of heavy periods. You can try a few to find out which work best for you and your lifestyle.
Applying a heat pad
Period pain and cramps can be relieved by applying a heat pad — the warmth helps relax your muscles.
Cooking in a cast-iron pot
To balance out the iron you’ll be losing during your heavy periods, you can introduce more iron in your diet by cooking in a cast-iron pot. Moist foods (eg sauces) will absorb more iron from the pot than dry foods. However, don’t overdo it and cook every meal in your cast-iron pot as you could end up with more iron in your diet than you need.
Resting and exercising
Heavy periods can leave you feeling extremely tired so take rest breaks whenever you can. Relaxing exercise (eg yoga) can help you deal with the stress of heavy periods.
Using a menstrual cup
Menstrual cups are becoming more popular as an eco-friendly way for women to manage their periods. If you have heavy periods, these silicone cups come with the added bonus of being able to hold more blood than tampons or pads. This means fewer trips to the toilet to change your sanitary product.
To use a menstrual cup, you’ll need to insert it into your vagina where it collects the menstrual blood released from your womb. The cup can then be emptied, cleaned and reused.
Wearing period pants at night
Period pants look the same as normal pants but have an additional absorbent layer. When worn with a sanitary product at night, they can prevent blood seeping through onto your clothes and bed linen.
In addition to dietary changes and home remedies, you can try over-the-counter medication for heavy menstrual bleeding. If these approaches aren’t helping, you can talk to your GP about prescription medication to lighten periods.
Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce your period pain and your menstrual bleeding. These drugs include aspirin and ibuprofen.
Birth control pills, patches and rings
These prescription medications use hormones to lighten your periods by thinning the lining of your womb. Most birth control medication is used for 21 days with a seven-day break when you have your period. However, there are also versions that you can take continuously through the month, which can stop your periods altogether.
Common side effects of birth control medication include:
Birth control injection
Your doctor or nurse will inject this hormone medication into your arm or buttock once every three months.
Hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)
A hormonal IUD is a birth control device that is inserted into your womb and releases hormones to prevent you from getting pregnant. It reduces your menstrual bleeding and for some women, stops it altogether. It can work for three to five years before it needs replacing. Copper IUDs work differently and will not reduce menstrual bleeding.
Tranexamic acid and desmopressin
Both of these prescription medications are antifibrinolytic, which means they prevent your body from breaking down blood clots — this reduces menstrual bleeding. Neither are birth control medications, so you can still get pregnant while taking them.
Tranexamic acid is usually taken as a tablet for several days each month. You may have side effects such as cramps and headaches.
Desmopressin is taken as a nasal spray.
This prescription medication is an artificial version of a natural hormone called progesterone. Taken as a tablet two times a day for 21 days, it can reduce your menstrual bleeding. Side effects are similar to those produced by the birth control pill.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists
If your heavy periods are caused by fibroids in your womb or endometriosis, your doctor may prescribe GnRH agonists either as an injection or nasal spray. This treatment is a temporary fix before you receive treatment for your underlying condition. They can only be taken for three to six months as their side effects get worse over time. Side effects include headaches, hot flashes and weakened bones.
If you’ve tried medication for your heavy periods and it isn’t effective, your doctor may discuss surgical options with you. They will consider how severe your symptoms are, whether you plan on having children and if there is an underlying cause for your heavy periods. If there is an underlying cause, such as fibroids in your womb or endometriosis, treatment for this condition will ease or stop your heavy periods.
Surgery for fibroids in your womb
If your heavy periods are caused by fibroids in your womb, treatment may be non-invasive, using focused ultrasound to shrink your fibroids. However, in cases where this isn’t appropriate, your doctor may recommend one of the following surgical procedures:
Other types of surgery
If your heavy periods are not caused by fibroids in your womb, your doctor may recommend one of the following surgical procedures:
How do you stop heavy periods at night?
There are several different prescription medications you can take to reduce heavy periods during the day and night — you can discuss your options with your GP. However, you can manage your symptoms by wearing period pants at night to prevent your heavy bleeding soaking through to your clothes and bed linen.
What causes heavy menstrual bleeding?
In half of all women with heavy menstrual bleeding, there is no known cause. However, in other women, there is an underlying health condition, such as endometriosis, endometrial polyps, fibroids or a pelvic infection.
What is the best position to sleep in on your period?
Avoid sleeping on your front. This puts pressure on your abdomen, which can cause more menstrual blood to flow out. Instead, try sleeping on your side with your knees bent and legs tucked up — this is called the foetal position and reduces pressure on your abdomen.
What foods stop heavy periods?
There aren’t any foods that can stop heavy periods. However, it is important to eat foods rich in vitamin C and iron if you have heavy periods. This is because heavy bleeding can reduce your iron levels, which can cause anaemia. Vitamin C helps your body absorb iron.
How many pads a day is normal?
Periods vary a lot between women, so there is no set number of pads that is normal to get through in a day. However, if your menstrual bleeding soaks through your pad in an hour, you likely have heavy periods.
Does vinegar help stop your period?
No, there is no evidence to support that drinking vinegar helps stop periods.
How can I stop my period without pills?
There are other medications you can take as injections or you can use a hormonal intrauterine device (IUD). Aside from medications, the only way to stop your period is to have surgery — depending on the type of surgery you have, your periods may stop permanently, which will prevent you from getting pregnant.
How heavy is too heavy for a period?
If your menstrual bleeding lasts for more than seven days, you soak through your sanitary product in an hour or you need to use more than one sanitary product at the same time (eg a tampon and a pad), you most likely have heavy periods. You may also notice other symptoms, such as large blood clots in your menstrual blood and feeling extremely tired.
Why is my period so heavy all of a sudden?
This may be caused by natural changes in your hormone levels. However, sudden heavy periods can also be caused by using a copper intrauterine device (IUD) or stopping taking the birth control pill. In some cases, it may be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis or fibroids.
What does big blood clots in period mean?
This usually means you have heavy periods — blood clots may be the size of a 10p coin or bigger. In some cases, your heavy periods and blood clots may be caused by an underlying medical condition. In rare cases, it may be caused by womb cancer. You should therefore see your GP to get a diagnosis and treatment if needed.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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