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What Exactly Is a Heavy Period & How to Tell If You Have Them

Not all periods are created equal. Depending on who you ask, a period can mean taking some pain relievers or curling up with a heating pad, while other women with heavy flows have to rush to the bathroom and change their pads or tampons throughout the day. Excess bleeding and irregular periods can take a real toll on your quality of life, and that’s something no one should have to suffer through in silence. 

In fact, you may be surprised to learn: Those heavy periods and all the ramifications — like bleeding through your clothes — can actually be caused by uterine fibroids (also called leiomyomas). Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors of the uterus that can develop from uterine smooth muscle tissue and extend into the uterine cavity, outside of the uterus and within the walls of the uterus.The growth of uterine fibroids is complicated and driven by hormones (estrogen and progesterone). 

In the spirit of National Period Day, we’re here to help you determine what constitutes a heavy period, and how to talk to your doctor if you suspect fibroids might be the reason for your abnormal flow.

What is considered a “heavy” period?

While every woman’s period can be different, the standard length for a normal period is usually between three and seven days, with the most volume of bleeding during the first few days that gets increasingly lighter. You’ve also got your typical cramps, bloating and spotting thrown in there too. But heavy periods? Those can last more than seven days, with a dense flow that soaks through one or more pads or tampons every hour. As well as pain in the abdomen or lower back and fatigue.

Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OB-GYN and women’s health expert, tells SheKnows about common cues that often indicate a heavy period. “Signs of a heavy period can be large menstrual blood clots, having to change a pad in less than one hour due to pads being saturated with blood, and having many bleeding accidents through clothes or bedding,” she says.

Having to carry around a change of underwear or pants and excess period supplies in anticipation of a leak, or experiencing blood clots the size of a quarter or larger are distressing burdens, to say the least. And it turns out they might be an indication that something more is going on inside your body. 

Heavy periods could be uterine fibroids 

While many women may not face serious issues like these when managing their period each month, if you’ve ever described your period as difficult, painful, atypical or messy — or you feel that something isn’t quite right with your period — you should discuss your concerns with your doctor to make sure all symptoms are taken seriously. 

Addressing your symptoms

Many women have uterine fibroids at some point during their lives, but it’s not easy to tell if you have them. Fibroids impact everyone differently and don’t always make everyone’s periods worse. Plus, for those who do get symptoms, issues like heavy bleeding might just be seen as really terrible periods until it becomes bad enough that normal care isn’t able to keep up. When you talk to your doctor about heavy bleeding, they can do a pelvic exam or ultrasound to help discover if you do have any uterine fibroids.

Most women will develop them at some point in their lives by the time they turn 50. However, Black women are statistically more likely to have fibroids than women in other racial groups, and are also more likely to develop them at a younger age and suffer from more severe symptoms. While the cause of fibroids is still unknown, it is known that they can be hereditary. 

Seriously, talk to your doctor

Periods look different for everyone, and so deciding on the best steps to address your “heavy flow” can be pretty difficult without a healthcare provider’s opinion. Pay attention to your period. It can be hard to admit that something is off, but discussing your period and possible uterine fibroid symptoms is worth bringing up with a healthcare provider, no matter how uncomfortable it might feel at first.

“This discussion can often be awkward and some women feel ashamed to bring it up,” Dr. Shepherd says, “patients should find a doctor that they feel comfortable discussing this with in order to help optimize their health and get the attention they deserve.” 

If you are diagnosed with uterine fibroids, it’s important to work with a healthcare provider to determine what treatment plan might be right for you. This plan should be based on how you want to address your specific symptoms in a way that best meets your individual treatment goals. Ultimately, this should involve discussing all applicable medical and surgical options. Approved treatment options for heavy menstrual bleeding due to fibroids now include a medication called Oriahnn™ (elagolix, estradiol, and norethindrone acetate capsules; elagolix capsules). Oriahnn is the first and only non-surgical, oral medication that is FDA-approved to treat heavy menstrual bleeding associated with uterine fibroids in premenopausal women. Taken daily, this treatment option is clinically proven to reduce menstrual bleeding due to uterine fibroids by at least 50 percent in as soon as one month.

ORIAHNN should not be taken for more than 24 months. It is not known if ORIAHNN is safe and effective in children under 18 years of age.

ORIAHNN may increase your chances of heart attack, stroke, or blood clots, especially if you are over 35 years of age and smoke, have uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and/or are obese. Stop taking ORIAHNN and talk to a doctor right away if you have symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or blood clot.

“Many options are available for treatment and management, so women should feel encouraged to have these discussions with their doctors,” Dr. Shepherd notes. She also recommends joining organizations that provide support groups, like Operation Period, Period Movement, Period Space Org, Fibroid Foundation and also The White Dress Project.

What’s normal for your period is different from what’s normal for someone else’s period. Ultimately, it’s important to speak with a healthcare provider about your individual symptoms, lifestyle and long-term goals to ensure you have a plan in place that meets your personal needs.

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This article was created by SheKnows and sponsored by AbbVie.

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