Having a regular period is bad enough to deal with five-ish days of the month. Now just imagine what life would be like if you suffered with constant menstrual bleeding, aka prolonged periods, aka never-ending periods, aka Shark Month instead of a mere Shark Week. While it's not uncommon for women to experience irregular or missed periods from time to time because of stress, diet, new birth control and the like, a prolonged period is a whole new ballgame.
And sadly, it's the reality for a small minority of women. They spend weeks, even months at a time, dealing with debilitating period side effects without much comfort. But that's not even the worst part about their unfortunate condition. There isn't just one thing that causes it, and getting to the root of the problem can be just as emotionally and physically painful as the condition itself.
Ailsa Frank, a 48-year-old self-help author and hypnotherapist, has dealt with the problem for over 20 years. While she always had difficult, long periods ever since they started when she was 13, the problem didn't become constant until after she had her baby at 24.
"I bled quite badly in the days after the birth, and it didn't stop. By the time I got to 12 weeks, I was bleeding constantly. I asked my GP if this was normal, and he said no. I went back on the pill, but my periods became sporadic and heavy, and not only that, but my health went downhill, and I was suffering dreadful fatigue," she told Daily Mail.
Frank went to see a gynecologist, who said the bleeding was due to her hormones being unbalanced and gave her HRT, which is what is often prescribed to menopausal women. However, while that helped with the pain, it also stopped her periods entirely. She finally had a hysterectomy at age 42 because she could no longer handle all the things she needed to do to manage the symptoms.
While Frank's condition may have been hormonal, it's far from the only thing that causes women to have constant periods. Dr. Penelope Law, consultant obstetrician and gynecologist at the Portland Hospital in London, explained on the Daily Mail that the key to treatment is all in figuring out from where the bleeding is coming from.
"It could be the cervix and due to inflammation or infection and, rarely, cancer. Or it could be coming from your womb lining — the endometrium — either due to imbalances between oestrogen and progesterone or because there is a small polyp or fibroid indenting the womb cavity and preventing the normal process of blood vessel contraction that happens at the end of your period."
One treatment method that's often implemented to lessen excessive menstrual bleeding is the IUD Mirena. It releases hormones that are meant to keep one's uterine lining thin, so hopefully bleeding will become less severe (it should be noted there is some controversy around Mirena causing ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages and more). Many women suffering from this condition end up receiving other, useless treatment, because their symptoms are misdiagnosed or brushed off by their doctors for years on end.
You'd think the medical profession would be more receptive to patients dealing with a condition that affects all aspects of their lives. Sometimes the bleeding can be so severe that women become anemic, which greatly impacts their mood and energy levels. Not to mention, the constant bleeding and pain gets in the way of their sex life and adds a whole other challenge to conceiving a child.
"My husband Will and I knew we wanted a third baby, but trying to figure out when I was fertile was impossible. And when you're bleeding so much, it doesn't exactly put you in the mood," said fellow sufferer Kelly Hockings.
While IUDs may help some women living with continuous menstrual bleeding, other cases are so severe that the only answer is a full hysterectomy. This can be particularly devastating, especially if the woman is young and still wants to have children. However, sometimes it comes down to whether or not having a baby is worth sacrificing your quality of life.
Originally published June 2016. Updated Sept. 2016.
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