When you’re dealing with uterine fibroids, you may also experience heavy menstrual bleeding. And your periods could last longer than the typical seven days. Obviously, this can be uncomfortable and, at times, inconvenient. But if you’re thinking that it’s just annoying, think again. As it turns out, heavy periods can actually affect other areas of your health.
Recently, one woman spoke to Popsugar about heavy periods making them miss work and school. Did you know that up to 14% of women have to call in sick because of their periods? And a whopping 80% were less productive during menstruation, because of symptoms like cramps or pelvic pain?
Unfortunately, this is especially true for Black women. Because they are at higher risk for fibroids, they are also more likely to experience painful, heavy periods. But they are also less likely to face sympathetic physicians. That’s exactly what happened to 24-year-old Ariel, who bravely shared her experiences regarding that time of the month, making her our Woman Crush this week.
After months of extreme period pain, Ariel finally opened up to her doctor. Yet she wasn’t taken seriously. “You see this happen way too often to Black women,” Ariel told POPSUGAR. “The time I did decide to tell a doctor about my period pain and nausea, I was prescribed ibuprofen and some medication for the nausea, which made me more nauseous.” According to her interviewers, she was never examined for fibroids or for other potential causes of her period pain.
As Houston fibroid specialists, we want to help women take control of their health. Which is why we’re here today, guiding you through symptoms. So you can know what’s normal, and when it’s time to see a specialist.
How Do I Know if My Periods Are Abnormal?
It’s easy to say that a heavy period could be cause for concern. But it can be difficult to quantify what “heavy” really means. Flow varies from woman to woman, so any major change could be problematic. As a general rule of thumb, however, your bleeding is excessively heavy if:
- There are less than 21 days between your periods (longer than 35 days between cycles is also unusual, but this would not be considered a problem of excess bleeding)
- Periods last longer than 7 days
- You pass large clots during your period (anything bigger than the size of a quarter warrants a discussion with your doctor)
- You’re losing more than 80 cc of blood. (Of course, no one expects you to actually measure your blood loss. But if you’re soaking through super tampons or pads in an hour or less, chances are you’re losing too much blood.)
My Period is Too Heavy – What Do I Do Now?
If you think that your periods are too heavy, talk to your doctor right away. Make an appointment with your gyno, even if it’s not time for your annual exam. Here’s why: heavy periods can lead to anemia, a condition that sets in when you don’t have enough iron in your blood. Anemia needs to be addressed immediately, because it can affect your body’s ability to carry oxygen to your extremities. Over time, it can also lead to iron deficiency which, in turn, can affect the body’s bone marrow response. Additionally, anemia can cause symptoms like fatigue, weakness, dizziness, pain, headaches, cold hands and feet or chest pain.
In fact, in some cases, women become so anemic, and their blood count falls so low, that they may lose consciousness or even have a heart attack or stroke. Clearly, it’s important to stop the heavy blood flow right away. To that end, your doctor may suggest oral birth control, or a hormonal IUD, to temporarily stop the severe blood loss. They may also suggest taking Oriahnn, the FDA-approved drug to stop fibroid-related heavy bleeding. Still, these are temporary band-aids to help you regain a healthy blood count. But you still need to address the underlying cause of your heavy menstrual bleeding to avoid such serious complications later on.
Once you mention heavy menstrual bleeding to your doctor, he or she will likely suggest an anemia screening, to make sure you’re staying ahead of the issue. But it’s also important to try and determine the cause of your heavy bleeding, or else your continued blood loss will likely keep you in an anemic state.
Fibroids and Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Uterine fibroids can develop within the uterine lining (submucosal), the uterine muscle (intramural) or outside the uterine lining (subserosal.) Submucosal fibroids may increase the area of the lining, which gives you more blood to shed each month. These fibroids may also hinder your body’s ability to stop bleeding once it starts.
Intramural fibroids can increase the blood flow that reaches your uterus. They can also expand the size of your uterine cavity, thereby increasing bleeding.
If fibroids are causing your heavy flow, you’ll have to treat them to stop the excessive bleeding. Be sure and discuss all your treatment options, both surgical and minimally invasive, when deciding how best to address your fibroids and heavy menstrual bleeding. And feel free to schedule a consultation with our Houston area fibroid specialists, to see if uterine fibroid embolization is the right choice for you!