What Causes a Heavy Menstrual Cycle?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 22 September 2018
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Heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding happens to most women at least once, and one heavy period isn’t necessarily a concern. Doctors and their patients may begin to be more concerned if a heavy menstrual cycle is not a one-time occurrence. Should heavy or prolonged bleeding continue to occur or be so profuse it approaches hemorrhage, consultation with a doctor is important.

Women tend to assess the heaviness of periods by their own experience and it’s a good idea to get a conforming sense of what truly constitutes a heavy menstrual cycle. Heavy can refer to needing than one napkin or tampon each hour for no more than three hours; continued bleeding at this level for longer needs medical care. Other signs include having to change sanitary napkins at night or to use two of the most protective types of napkins at other times. Feeling very tired during periods where some of these symptoms are present could also suggest anemia due to excess blood loss. Another symptom is when a woman passes several blood clots during menstruation.

A time when a heavy menstrual cycle should not be initially ignored is if a woman thinks she might be pregnant. One sign of potential miscarriage early in a pregnancy is what appears to be a “period” that has higher than normal flow. Any bleeding during suspected pregnancy should be reported right away.


For most women, following up with their doctor if heavy periods repeat is the standard recommendation. Many women will find that doctors want to investigate hormone levels because one of the top causes of heavy menstrual cycle is hormonal irregularity. This can often be addressed with hormone supplementation.

Other benign causes of heavy menstrual bleeding include growths that can occur in the uterus or on the cervix like fibroids or polyps. These might require removal and others do not. Women who have intrauterine devices (IUDs) that don’t have hormonal disbursal may also note much greater bleeding. Some hormonal IUDs may cause this effect in other women, but more commonly they reduce bleeding.

As with IUDs, treatments for other conditions are sometimes the cause of heavy periods. Lots of women take ibuprofen or aspirin to relieve cramping during menstruation or for other conditions, and these medications make it difficult for blood to clot quickly. They may actually cause heavier periods, though for some women they certainly relieve menstruation symptoms. Switching to a medication that doesn’t have this effect may be of use.

Naturally, there are some more serious causes of heavy menstrual cycle. Cervical and uterine cancers are indicated until ruled out. Sometimes bleeding is really coming from the rectum and not the uterus, indicating colon cancer. Other conditions like endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disorder, and diseases that may impact other parts of the body could result in some heavier periods too. Without doctor assistance, it’s usually not possible to determine a reason, and it’s thus recommended women bring this issue to their physicians, particularly if it remains problematic.



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