Factsheet: Menorrhagia

Menorrhagia (heavy periods) can be difficult to live with, but the good news is that there are various treatments which a high success rate. Get the facts here.

Period pains

What is menorrhagia?

Menorrhagia is defined as a loss of blood of more than 80ml, compared with the normal amount of 20-60ml. It can be tricky estimating the amount of blood lost so the symptoms of heavy blood loss are outlined below:

What are the symptoms of menorrhagia?

-Bleeding through to clothes or onto bedding at night - called "flooding"

  • Being prevented from going out, working, shopping etc

  • Having to change sanitary protection every two hours or more

  • Having to use towels in addition to tampons

  • Passing large blood clots which may be so big as to resemble liver

  • Anaemia (lack of red blood cells)

  • Bleeding may be accompanied by cramp-like pain

  • Prolonged blood loss with minimal time in between periods

How can I tell if my periods are "normal"?

The average blood loss during a period is 20-60ml and the period typically lasts between three to seven days. Some women's cycles (ie from the end of one period to the start of another) last less than a month and some last longer. Approximately 90% of the blood loss usually occurs in the first three days.

What are the causes of menorrhagia?

In most cases the exact cause is unknown. With menhorragia the womb and ovaries function normally however a certain chemical called prostoglandin in the lining of the uterus is usually higher than normal. It is thought that the high levels of the chemical may affect clotting which subsequently takes bleeding longer to stop.

Less common are other causes including:

  • Fibroids. Benign (non cancer-forming) growths in the uterus which sometimes cause symptoms similar to heavy periods

  • Infections, polyps or endemotriosis (the presence of the tissue that normally lines the uterus) outside the uterus may lead to heavy bleeding

  • Hormone problems sometimes caused by an underactive thyroid gland Obesity. Overweight women are more likely to suffer with heavy periods than those of average weight.

  • Following sterilisation

How can menorrhagia be treated?

If periods are making your life difficult, visit your GP for an internal examination and/or a cervical smear test. If required a blood test will check for anaemia (easily treatable with iron supplements available from pharmacies) and possibly other tests to gauge thyroid and reproductive hormone levels. S/he may refer you to a gynaecologist.

Drugs can be prescribed to reduce blood loss, some of which do not contain hormones. And some pain-relieving drugs can actually cut down blood loss as well. Other treatments alter hormone levels (eg progesterone) to stop bleeding.

Some women find a solution in the oral contraceptive pill which leads to lighter, more regular periods. There are also hormone treatments which can stop you having periods all together, this may be in tablet form or by injections.

If none of the above are successful surgery may be the last resort, either a hysterectomy to remove the womb is removed or laser surgery to remove the lining of the womb (the part that bleeds) which leaving the rest of the womb intact.

One final note...

Contact your doctor if you have light bleeding (“spotting”) in between periods or after intercourse.

Support Group:

Contact the National Association for Premenstrual Syndrome, tel: (0870) 777 2178.