Get plenty of rest. The body needs energy to restore the blood it loses during heavy menstrual flow. Taking time to rest whenever possible is important—especially just before, during and after your period.
Relaxation techniques can curb stress that interferes with a woman’s natural cycle. Some proven techniques include deep breathing, guided imagery, mindfulness meditation, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga.
“Normal,” of course, is a relative term. What might be cause for concern for one woman might be normal for another. That’s why menstrual pads and tampons come in different sizes and absorbencies. However, if you experience abrupt and unexpected changes to what you experience as normal—whether those changes consist of heavy bleeding, missed cycles or bleeding after sexual intercourse—it’s a good idea to follow up with your health provider.
If your periods last longer than seven days, or they come more frequently than every 24 days—measured from the start of one cycle to the start of the next—or if your bleeding requires you to change your pad and/or tampon more often than every two hours, it’s time to talk to a health provider. Prolonged heavy bleeding can lead to anemia, where the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to all its tissues.
Any postmenopausal woman experiencing uterine bleeding after one year without a period—or during or after sexual intercourse—should talk to her provider, as these types of bleeding can be caused by treatable vaginal infections or, in rare cases, certain forms of reproductive cancer.
Abnormal bleeding can occur at any age. However, it is most common in teens and pre-teens ages 9-14, whose bodies are just entering their reproductive years, and in women ages 45-55, whose bodies are entering perimenopause.
Abnormal or irregular uterine bleeding is most often caused by fluctuations in hormone levels, including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. These fluctuations may be caused by something as simple as an unusual amount of stress. Or they may be due to the onset of menopause or a thyroid disorder.
Other causes of abnormal bleeding include vitamin deficiency or eating disorder (which can result in amenorrhea, or a lack of menstrual periods), endometriosis, fibroids and polyps. Rarely, abnormal bleeding may be due to certain types of reproductive cancer, including cervical, endometrial and vulvar cancer.
About 1 in 5 women bleeds so heavily during her periods that she needs to put her normal life on hold. Blood loss during a normal menstrual period is about 5 tablespoons. Women with heavy flows can bleed as much as 10 to 25 times that amount each month.
Abnormal uterine bleeding or discharge at any age could be a sign of several kinds of cancer. It’s the most common symptom in women with endometrial cancer. And bleeding after sex or between periods could be a sign of advancing cervical cancer. In older women, it could mean vulvar cancer.
While abnormal bleeding (outside pregnancy) rarely causes infertility, it often results from conditions that may in fact negatively impact fertility, such as endometriosis, fibroids or certain types of cancer.