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Women don't need to 'put up' with heavy periods

Blog post | 23 May 2018

Caroline battled heavy periods for more than 25 years. At times she would have to sleep with a towel underneath her and there were days when she couldn’t leave the house. 

It was going for her black belt in Taekwondo, in her 40s, that finally motivated Caroline to see a doctor. Taekwondo requires a white martial-arts uniform (dobok) and involves many revealing high kicks.

“There is nothing worse than leakage in white pants,” Caroline says, telling her story about heavy periods in a new podcast produced by Jean Hailes for Women’s Health. On days when her period was particularly heavy, Caroline didn’t bother going to her beloved taekwondo class.

Heavy periods affect 1 in 4 women

Caroline isn’t alone. Heavy menstrual bleeding affects up to 1 in 4 women of reproductive age in Australia and about half of these women also experience painful periods.

"Women with heavy periods might notice they’re getting more tired, lacking in energy, they’re having palpitations and struggle to do their daily business,” explains Dr Elizabeth Farrell, Medical Director of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, a not-for-profit organisation that shares trusted information on women’s health topics.

“They could have iron deficiency or even anaemia because of that heavy monthly flow. So it’s important that if you have symptoms where you don’t feel well to also see your doctor,” urges Dr Farrell.

About half of those women do not have any abnormalities in their uterus. In the other half, the causes of heavy bleeding can include polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, polyps or fibroids (non-cancerous growths or lumps), adenomyosis, and in very rare cases, cancer.

How to know if your bleeding is too heavy

It’s not easy, but the best way to tell if your bleeding is too heavy is whether it’s impacting your quality of life. If your period causes you to be housebound, interrupts your daily activities or causes you stress and anxiety, you should talk to your doctor.  

That said, you may be experiencing heavy bleeding if:

  • you have bleeding or 'flooding' that is not contained within a pad or tampon (especially if you are wearing the largest size)
  • you are changing a pad or tampon every hour or more
  • you are changing an overnight pad during the night
  • you have clots that are larger than a 50-cent piece
  • you are bleeding for more than 8 days

Help is on its way

There’s no need for women to suffer in silence. There are several ways to treat heavy menstrual bleeding, says Dr Farrell. Medication, such as the oral contraceptive pill or anti-inflammatory drugs, can slow the flow by more than half. The IUD (intrauterine device) can stop blood flow by up to 90% or even entirely.

In some cases, like Caroline’s, a surgical procedure such as an ablation might be possible. In an ablation, the inside lining of the uterus is removed, which may lead to very light periods or no periods.

Of course, ablation isn’t for everyone, including women who want to become pregnant. “It’s important for your doctor to talk to you about the most appropriate form of treatment, which depends on the cause of your heavy periods,” explains Dr Farrell.

Caroline got the help she needed and these days, she bleeds only about every 3 months. She also received her black belt.

Need more information?

  • If your periods are impacting your daily life, talk to your GP or gynaecologist, if you have one. They will ask you about your medical history, contraception, changes to your period and more. You can use the healthdirect Question Builder to help you devise a list of questions to ask your doctor.
  • You can speak with a registered nurse by calling the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
  • Listen to the free podcast on heavy periods here and visit Jean Hailes for Women’s Health for more information on any women’s health topics.

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