Periods are a fact of life for millions of women and girls, and for most of them, it’s not a big deal. But for thousands, their periods bring suffering in the form of unusually heavy or painful periods. Sometimes they can be so heavy they cause anemia, or the pain is incapacitating. Fortunately, there are treatments. Let’s take a look at the causes first.
The most common cause is hormonal. Hormones do everything from triggering ovulation to regulating cycles. Too much hormones can lead to the uterine lining building up too much, resulting in heavier than normal bleeding. Hormones are also responsible for uterine contractions, necessary to expel the lining each month, and if levels are too high, severe cramping results.
Another common cause is fibroids. These are benign tumors that form in the uterus. No one knows why. In many cases they remain small and cause no symptoms, but it’s not uncommon for them to grow as large as an orange or more. When this happens, pain and menstrual flow increase, sometimes to incapacitating levels. The reasons are because the fibroids bleed along with the uterine lining, and if big enough, actually interfere with the the lining sloughing off because the uterus cannot contract properly.
A third and much less common cause is uterine or cervical cancer. If you usually have normal periods and they suddenly become very heavy or painful, or you find you are bleeding between periods or after sex, talk to your doctor.
To diagnose the exact cause of your heavy or painful periods, you should see your doctor for a check up. They will do bloodwork and a pelvic exam, as well as a high resolution ultrasound. If it’s hormonal, the doctor will prescribe a treatment to balance things out. If fibroids are found, the doctor can do laparoscopic surgery or a D&C to remove them, but they may grow back. Fibroids feed on estrogen, so they may prescribe a treatment to lower estrogen levels. In severe cases when nothing else has worked, a hysterectomy or ablation may be needed. A hysterectomy may also be needed if cancer is found.
Don’t be afraid to discuss your period issues with your doctor. They have heard it all before and want to help! Be sure to document your symptoms and be honest when speaking with them!