What is Menorrhagia?
Menorrhagia is the medical term used to define heavy or prolonged menstrual bleeding every month. It occurs along with other menstrual symptoms such as headaches, cramps, pain, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. Heavy menstrual bleeding can often be so severe and persistent that your daily routine is disrupted.
The amount of blood lost in each period varies from woman to woman. While some women may only lose a small amount of blood, others may lose large quantities. A normal menstrual flow occurs every 28 days, or can range from 21 days to 35 days. It usually lasts about 4 days, with total loss of blood = 30 to 40 milliliters = 2 to 3 tablespoons.
Women with menorrhagia lose 80 milliliters of blood or soak 16 sanitary products during their menstrual cycle – sanitary products may also be soaked every 2 to 3 consecutive hours. Some women also experience prolonged bleeding, bleeding for longer than seven days (known as hypermenorrhea). If menorrhagia is left untreated, complications such as anemia, toxic shock syndrome (TSS) and infertility may develop.
Menorrhagia can develop in any woman of childbearing age. Young adolescent or pre-menopausal women tend to also be affected more by menorrhagia. Other factors that may also place you at risk of developing menorrhagia includes being overweight, using certain medications such as blood thinners and having a hereditary bleeding disorder can also influence heavy menstrual bleeding.
The most common symptoms and signs of menorrhagia include:
- Changing sanitary products every hour
- Changing sanitary products during the night
- Bleeding is prolonged – menstrual period lasts longer than seven days
- Using double sanitary protection to control menstrual flow
- Bleeding and spotting between menstrual periods
- Continuous cramping during menstrual period
- Short or irregular menstrual cycles
- Bleeding or spotting during pregnancy
- Heavy bleeding interferes with daily life
- Fatigue, low energy levels and shortness of breath (anemia)
What Causes Menorrhagia?
There are several conditions that may contribute to menorrhagia and these include:
- Hormone imbalance
- Uterine fibroids
- Pregnancy complications (miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy)
- Anovulation (lack of ovulation – when ovaries fail to produce and release eggs)
- Changes in birth control or estrogen use
- Use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Bleeding or platelet disorders
- Thyroid problems
- Liver or kidney disease
- Endometrial cancer
- Medications such as steroids, blood thinners, anti-inflammatories or anticoagulants
- Change in exercise routine or diet
- Recent weight loss or weight gain
The diagnosis of menorrhagia is based on your symptoms, a review of your medical history as a physical examination including a pelvic exam. Your doctor will enquire about your menstrual cycle and you may be asked to keep a record of your blood flow, particularly how heavy it was.
In order to rule out other menstrual disorders and medical conditions, certain tests have to be performed. Tests such as blood tests, pap smear, endometrial biopsy and ultrasound scan may be ordered. Additional tests such as a sonohysterogram, hysteroscopy and dilation and curettage (D and C) may also have to be performed.
Help for Menorrhagia
Treatment options for menorrhagia are usually determined by the cause of the problem. Over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen may help to decrease blood flow and alleviate menstrual cramps. Your health practitioner may prescribe iron and folic supplements if you are anemic.
Hormonal birth control (low-dose oral contraceptive pill) may help to regulate your menstrual cycle and make periods lighter. Progesterone therapy may also be recommended if you are experiencing prolonged heavy bleeding. In cases where menorrhagia is severe, surgical options may be required. These procedures include a hysterectomy, endometrial ablation (intense ultrasound waves kill endometrial lining) or dilation and curettage (cervix is dilated and tissue is scraped from the lining of the uterus).
Herbal and homeopathic remedies are a more natural alternative that can be used to regulate the menstrual cycle. These remedies are gentle and safe for the body’s system without the harsh side effects of conventional medications. Herbs such as Artemisia vulgaris and Capsella bursa-pastoris help to promote and support menstrual and hormonal health.
Calendula officinalis acts as a menstrual cycle regulator and provides a soothing effect while Viburnum opulus (Cramp Bark) helps to ease nervous tension and reduce menstrual cramps. In addition, homeopathic ingredients such as Calc. carb, Sepia and Belladonna promote normal menstrual flow and a balanced mood while China encourages healthy levels of iron in the blood and increases energy levels.
More Information on Menorrhagia
Tips to cope with menorrhagia
In order to ease the discomfort of menorrhagia, follow these useful guidelines:
- Incorporate more iron-rich foods such as red meat, dark, green vegetables, eggs, sardines and raisins
- Exercise regularly by participating in gentle activities such as walking, yoga or pilates
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, sugar and salt a week before your period is due – this will help reduce the severity of cramps
- Add vitamin supplements to your diet such as zinc, calcium and vitamin B6
- Keep a record of your menstrual flow – make notes of your bleeding and non-bleeding days, how heavy your flow was and how much sanitary protection was needed
- Apply a heat pack or hot water bottle to your lower abdomen or back to relieve cramps
- Always have an extra supply of sanitary towels and tampons on hand in case of an emergency
- Soak in a warm bath to release tension and relax muscles
- Massage lower back with arnica oil or aromatherapy oil to relieve pain
- Make yourself as comfortable as possible and get plenty of rest