Heavy periods, also called menorrhagia, is when a woman loses an excessive amount of blood during consecutive periods.
Menorrhagia can occur by itself or in combination with other symptoms, such as menstrual pain (dysmenorrhoea).
Heavy bleeding does not necessarily mean there is anything seriously wrong, but it can affect a woman physically, emotionally and socially, and can cause disruption to everyday life.
See your doctor if you are worried about heavy bleeding during or between your periods.
It is difficult to define exactly what a heavy period is because the amount of blood lost during a period can vary considerably between women.
The average amount of blood lost during a period is 30-40ml (millilitres), with nine out of 10 women losing less than 80ml. Therefore, heavy menstrual bleeding is considered to be 60-80ml or more in each cycle.
However, it is rarely necessary to measure blood loss. Most women have a good idea about how much bleeding is normal for them during their period and can tell when this amount increases or decreases.
A good indication that your blood loss is excessive is if:
In most cases, no underlying cause of heavy periods is identified. However, some conditions and treatments have been linked to menorrhagia, including:
Read more about the causes of heavy periods.
Your doctor should be able to diagnose heavy periods from your symptoms alone.
The cause of your menorrhagia may sometimes need to be investigated further. Usually, this involves a pelvic examination and a blood test.
If a cause is still not found, then you may have an ultrasound scan.
Read more about diagnosing heavy periods.
In some cases, heavy periods do not need to be treated, as they can be a natural variation and may not disrupt your lifestyle.
If treatment is necessary, medication is most commonly used first. However, it may take a while to find the medication most suitable for you, as their effectiveness is different for everyone and some also act as contraceptives.
If medication doesn't work, surgery may also be an option.
Read more about treating heavy periods.
No underlying cause is identified in 40-60% of cases of heavy periods (menorrhagia). Otherwise, possible causes of heavy periods include the following:
Heavy periods may sometimes be caused by medical treatments. These can include:
Visit your doctor if you feel your periods are unusually heavy. Your doctor will investigate the problem and offer treatments to help.
Heavy periods (menorrhagia) are diagnosed when both you and your doctor agree your menstrual bleeding is heavy, after details about your periods and medical history have been taken.
To establish the cause of your heavy periods, your doctor will ask about:
They will also ask questions about your periods, including:
Your doctor will want to know if you have any bleeding between periods (intermenstrual bleeding) or after sexual intercourse (postcoital bleeding), and whether you experience any pelvic pain.
To help determine the cause of your menorrhagia, you may have a physical examination, particularly if you have pelvic pain or bleeding between periods or after sex.
Your doctor is likely to want to know the contraception you currently use, whether you are considering changing it and whether you have any future plans to have a baby. The last time you had a cervical screening test will also be noted.
Finally, they will ask about your family history to rule out inherited conditions which may be responsible, such as von Willebrand disease, which runs in families and affects the blood's ability to clot properly.
Depending on your medical history and the results of your initial physical examination, the cause of your heavy bleeding may need to be investigated further. For example, if you experience intermenstrual or postcoital bleeding, or have pelvic pain, you will need further tests to rule out serious illness, such as an underlying cancer (which is very rare).
If you need to have a pelvic examination, your doctor will ask if you would like a female assistant to be present. A pelvic examination will include:
Pelvic examinations should only be carried out by healthcare professionals who are qualified to perform them, such as a doctor or gynaecologist (a specialist in the female reproductive system).
Before carrying out a pelvic examination, the healthcare professional will explain the procedure to you and the reasons why it is necessary. You should ask about anything you are unsure about. A pelvic examination should not be carried out without your permission.
In some menorrhagia cases, a biopsy may be needed to establish a cause. This will be carried out by a specialist and involves removing a small sample of your womb lining for closer examination under a microscope.
If you have iron deficiency anaemia, you will usually be prescribed a course of medication. Your doctor will be able to advise you about the type of medication most suitable for you and how long you need to take it for.
If you have heavy menstrual bleeding and the cause is still unknown after you've had tests, an ultrasound scan of your womb may be carried out to look for abnormalities such as fibroids (non-cancerous growths) or polyps (harmless growths). Ultrasound can also be used to detect some forms of cancer.
A transvaginal scan is often used, which involves a small probe being inserted into the vagina to take a close-up image of your womb.
Medication is the main treatment for heavy periods (menorrhagia), but surgery may be used in some cases.
If menorrhagia is diagnosed, your doctor will discuss possible treatment options with you, including:
In some cases, treatment is not necessary. If the heavy bleeding doesn't affect your life or no serious cause is suspected, you may just be reassured that bleeding can vary over time for some people.
The aim of treating menorrhagia is to:
Medication is recommended as the first line of treatment for women who:
If a particular medication is not suitable for you, or a medication is not effective, another type may be recommended. Some medications make your periods lighter and others may stop bleeding completely. Some medications are also contraceptives. Your doctor will explain how each type of medication works and any possible side effects. This will help you and your doctor decide which is the most suitable treatment.
The different types of medication used to treat menorrhagia are outlined below.
You can read more about many of these treatments in our [medicine guide for heavy periods].
The levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) is a small plastic device inserted into your womb which slowly releases a hormone called progestogen. It prevents the lining of your womb from growing quickly and is also a form of contraceptive. LNG-IUS does not affect your chances of getting pregnant after you stop using it.
Possible side effects of using LNG-IUS include:
LNG-IUS has been shown to reduce blood loss by 71-96% and is the preferred first choice treatment for women with menorrhagia, provided that long-term contraception using an intrauterine device is appropriate.
If LNG-IUS is unsuitable (for example, if contraception is not desired), tranexamic acid tablets may be considered. The tablets work by helping the blood in your womb to clot. They have been shown to reduce blood loss by 29-58%.
Two or three tranexamic acid tablets are taken after heavy bleeding has started. They are taken three or four times a day, for a maximum of three to four days. The lower end of this dosing range will usually be recommended. For example, two tablets, three times a day for four days. Treatment should be stopped if your symptoms have not improved within three months.
Tranexamic acid tablets are not a form of contraception and will not affect your chances of becoming pregnant. If necessary, tranexamic acid can be combined with a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) (see below).
Possible side effects include indigestion and diarrhoea.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be used to treat menorrhagia as a second choice treatment if LNG-IUS is not appropriate. NSAIDs have been shown to reduce blood loss by 20-49%. They are taken in tablet form from the start of your period (or just before) and until bleeding has stopped.
The NSAIDs that are recommended for treating menorrhagia are:
These are usually taken three or four times a day.
NSAIDs work by reducing your body's production of a hormone-like substance called prostaglandin, which is linked to heavy periods. NSAIDs are also painkillers. They are not a form of contraceptive. However, if necessary, they can be used with the combined oral contraceptive pill (see below).
Common side effects of NSAIDs include indigestion and diarrhoea.
NSAIDs can be used for an indefinite number of menstrual cycles, as long as they are relieving symptoms of heavy blood loss and not causing significant adverse side effects. However, treatment should be stopped after three months if NSAIDs are found to be ineffective.
Combined contraceptive pills, often referred to as the pill, can be used to treat menorrhagia. They contain the hormones oestrogen and progestogen. You take one pill every day for 21 days, before stopping for seven days. During this seven-day break you get your period. This cycle is then repeated.
The benefit of using combined oral contraceptives as a treatment for menorrhagia is that they offer a more readily reversible form of contraception than LNG-IUS. They also have the benefit of regulating your menstrual cycle and reducing painful periods (dysmenorrhoea).
The combined oral contraceptive works by preventing your ovaries from releasing an egg each month. As long as you are taking the pills correctly, they should prevent pregnancy.
Common side effects of the combined oral contraceptive pill include:
[Norethisterone] is a type of man-made progestogen (one of the female sex hormones). It is another type of medication that can be used to treat menorrhagia. It is taken in tablet form two to three times a day from days five to 26 of your menstrual cycle, counting the first day of your period as day one.
Oral norethisterone works by preventing your womb lining from growing quickly. It is not an effective form of contraception and can have unpleasant side effects, including:
Oral progestogens such as norethisterone are not as effective as tranexamic acid and may not always be able to control heavy bleeding.
A type of progestogen called medroxyprogesterone acetate is also available as an injection and is sometimes used to treat menorrhagia. It works by preventing the lining of your womb from growing quickly and is a form of contraception. It does not prevent you becoming pregnant after you stop using it, although there may be a delay after you take it before you are able to get pregnant.
Common side effects of injected progestogen include:
You will need to have this form of progestogen injected once every twelve weeks for as long as treatment is required.
Gonadotropin releasing hormone analogue (GnRH-a) is a type of hormone sometimes given as an injection to treat fibroids (non-cancerous growths in the womb).
Studies have shown that GnRH-a is effective in reducing blood loss during periods. However, it can be expensive and may cause hormone abnormalities (hypogonadism) similar to the menopause, the effects of which include hot flushes, increased sweating and vaginal dryness. Therefore, GnRH-a is not a routine treatment but may be used while you await surgery.
Your specialist may suggest surgery if medication is not effective in treating your menorrhagia.
There are several types of operation that can be used to treat menorrhagia. Two are only suitable if your heavy periods are caused by fibroids (non-cancerous growths in the womb). These are:
Uterine artery embolisation (UAE) is a minimally invasive procedure carried out through a small tube inserted into your groin. Small plastic beads are injected through the tube into the arteries supplying blood to the fibroid. This blocks the arteries and causes the fibroid to shrink over the subsequent six months.
Advantages of UAE include:
However, having UAE may cause some pain after the blood supply is removed, and strong painkillers are needed for about eight hours. There are also other complications your specialist will be able to discuss with you.
If you plan to get pregnant in the future, you may choose not to have UAE, as there are potential risks to your fertility.
In around 10-20% of cases, UAE may be required again later on. Your specialist will discuss this with you.
Sometimes, the fibroids can be removed using a surgical procedure known as a myomectomy. However, the operation is not suitable for every type of fibroid. Your gynaecologist (specialist in the female reproductive system) will be able to tell you whether a myomectomy is possible and what the complications are.
When they are possible, myomectomies are effective operations. However, in some cases the fibroids grow back.
Read more about treating fibroids.
If your heavy periods are not caused by fibroids, several surgical procedures can be carried out, including:
Your specialist can discuss these with you, including the benefits and any associated risks.
There are different techniques used for endometrial ablation. These include:
These procedures can be carried out under local anaesthetic](https://www.your.md/condition/anaesthetic-local) (painkilling medication) or [general anaesthetic (where you are unconscious). They are fairly quick to perform, taking around 20 minutes, and you can often go home the same day.
You may experience some vaginal bleeding for a few days after endometrial ablation which is similar to a light period. Use sanitary towels rather than tampons. Some women can have bloody discharge for three or four weeks.
You may also experience tummy cramps, similar to period pains, for a day or two. These can be treated with painkillers such as paracetamol.
It is usually recommended that you don't get pregnant after you have had endometrial ablation, as the risk of problems like miscarriage is high.
A hysterectomy (removal of the womb) will stop any future periods, but should only be considered after other options have been tried or discussed. The hysterectomy operation and recovery time are longer than for other surgical techniques for treating heavy periods.
A hysterectomy is only used to treat menorrhagia following a thorough discussion with your specialist to outline the benefits and disadvantages of the procedure.
You will no longer be able to get pregnant after a hysterectomy.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.