Health & Fitness

Period drama: Your heavy flow may be your body's way of alerting you to a problem

Pay attention to the duration and heaviness of your menstruation cycle, so you know exactly when to visit a doctor

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Every woman goes through her period in a different way, in terms of symptoms, duration and blood flow. So while you think your period is 'normal', it might not actually be so (and vice versa). As a general rule of thumb, a heavy period is one where you bleed for more than eight days, or if you have to change your pad or tampon every hour or so. This might be a sign of something else happening in your body.  Here are seven possibilities.

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Fibroids

These are fairly common; up to 80 percent of women will have at least one of them before they reach the age of 50. Fibroids are growths that form in the muscle of the uterus and are usually benign, but it's good to let your doctor investigate if you do have them. Heavy bleeding during your period is the most common symptom, and you might also suffer from cramps in your lower abdominal area. They're easily discovered through a pelvic examination and treatment will depend on how many fibroids you have, where exactly they are and how big they are. Your doctor will then decide if nothing needs to be done, or if you need to get them removed through keyhole surgery or, in very serious cases, if you need a hysterectomy.

Polyps

These are also non-cancerous growths and could develop in your cervix or your uterus. These small growths are often harmless but, in extreme cases, could lead to infertility or miscarriages. You will probably also ‘spot’ between periods if you have polyps. They can be treated with medication or removed through minor surgery. 

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A Change in Contraception

Heavy periods are common for the first few months after the implantation of an intrauterine device (IUD). This happens with both the hormonal IUD and the copper coil. Heavy bleeding also occurs when you change or go off birth control pills; for example, the progestogen-only pill can have an initial ‘rebound’ effect when you go off them. However, heavy bleeding due to such reasons is temporary and should settle down after a few cycles, so there's no need to worry. If you're still bleeding heavily after a couple of months, see a doctor.

PCOS

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) refers to the condition where small cysts grow on the ovaries. This irritation results in the thickening of the lining of your uterus, which then leads to extremely heavy periods (as your period is essentially the shedding of this lining).

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PID

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) occurs when your reproductive organs are infected with bacteria. And because almost all PID cases are a result of a sexually-transmitted infection (especially chlamydia and gonorrhoea), abnormally heavy periods aren’t the only symptom – you'll also suffer from fever, nausea and pain in the lower abdomen during sexual intercourse. PID can seriously affect your fertility, so see a doctor immediately if you're suffering from these symptoms before it gets worse.

Endometriosis

You have this condition if your uterine tissue grows outside your uterus, such as around your ovaries or fallopian tubes. Although it's one of the leading causes of infertility, it's very difficult to diagnose and most women only realise they have it when they're unsuccessfully trying to have children, although they have experienced very heavy periods for years. Other symptoms of endometriosis include painful sex and severe menstrual cramps.

Hormone Imbalance

Heavy bleeding could also signal that your hormones are out of whack. The two main culprits are oestrogen and progestogen as the former builds up the lining of the uterus and the latter ensures that it's stable. Any imbalance between these two could cause you to bleed more than normal. Your doctor can prescribe hormone medications if this is the case.

42 Health & Fitness 13 Lifestyle

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