Heavy Periods: When Should You See Your Doctor?

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Heavy menstrual bleeding can put a serious damper on quality of life.

Not only are heavy periods debilitating, but they can also point to a more serious underlying health problem, according to obstetrician gynecologist Kerri Hall, at Mon Health Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“Heavier than average periods can be caused by something as simple as a hormonal imbalance or medication side effect, or they can mean there’s a more serious illness or reproductive issue at play,” Dr. Hall said. “There’s a wide range of possible causes—that’s why it’s best for any women experiencing heavy bleeding to see their doctor right away.”

About one-third of women experience heavy menstrual bleeding. But while common, it’s not normal, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Heavy periods can cause more than just heavy cramping and fatigue. Heavy blood loss from periods may cause iron-deficiency anemia, which can lead to other more serious respiratory and cardiac issues.

That’s why women who experience heavier than normal bleeding should tell their doctors about their symptoms and discuss available treatment options based on diagnosis.

When should I see a doctor for heavy periods?

  • Bleeding lasts more than seven days.
  • Blood soaks through one or more tampons or pads every hour for several hours.
  • You need to wear multiple pads at a time to control menstrual flow.
  • You find yourself having to change pads or tampons throughout the night.
  • You pass blood clots that are as big as a quarter or larger.

What will my doctor check for at my visit?

Your doctor will assess a number of health variables at your appointment, including health history, current medications and symptoms. Your doctor will likely do a physical exam and decide whether you need any further tests such as a Pap smear, biopsy, blood test or ultrasound.

If possible, women experiencing heavy periods should keep track of the details of their cycle, including dates, duration of bleeding and amount of blood loss (spotting, heavy, clots, etc.).

“Knowing the details of your menstrual cycle can play a key role in helping us pinpoint and diagnose the issue,” said Hall. “If you don’t have the best memory, there are a lot of great, free smartphone apps out there that can help women track monthly cycles.”

She added that birth control options or surgical procedures can help reduce or eliminate the heavy periods.

“Too often women think they have to live with this issue, and that often isn’t the case,” said. Dr. Hall. “There’s likely a treatment for you, and you’ll be able to live your life normally during your period.”