Most women experience a standard menstrual cycle that occurs every 25-35 days and lasts about four to seven days; unfortunately a small percentage of women have periods that are more complicated than that.
Some experience heavy or irregular periods that can interfere with sleep and daily activities.
Menorrhagia, the word for heavy or prolonged menstrual periods, is the most common type of abnormal bleeding from a woman's uterus. Periods are considered heavy if there is enough blood that can soak through a tampon or pad every hour for several hours.
Other symptoms of menorrhagia include nighttime bleeding that requires getting up to change pads or tampons, seeing large blood clots during menstruation or experiencing a period that lasts longer than seven days. In some cases, heavy periods can cause anemia due to blood loss.
There are many causes for menorrhagia. Fibroids, which are noncancerous tumors that develop in the uterus, or infection, could be to blame. Another cause is Hyperplasia, a pre-cancerous condition of the uterus. This occurs when endometrial tissue, which normally lines the uterus, moves into the outer muscular walls of the uterus. Andenomyosis, uterine thickening, is another cause.
Individuals who experience signs of a heavy period should call their OB/GYN for an exam. The examination may include a physical, blood work, a pap smear or ultrasound.
Individuals who are 35 or younger and otherwise healthy, may be put on a cyclic anti-inflammatory medicine routine, such as cyclic ibuprofen, to help reduce the amount of blood loss. Another option for people under 35 would be hormone therapy, such as birth control pill.
For patients over 35, the OB/GYN may do more testing, such as examining the shape of the uterus, blood count or thyroid levels to rule out fibroids.
In addition to menorrhagia, some women can experience very irregular periods. There are three types of irregular menstruation cycles:
■ Oligomenorrhea is infrequent periods. The time between periods usually lasts 35 days or more, instead of the normal 28 days. Women who experience this condition usually have fewer than six to eight periods per year.
■ Metrorrhagia is a condition where women suffer from very frequent periods.
■ Amenorrhea is when women experience an absence of periods for three to six months.
Similar to menorrhagia, causes for these three types of irregular periods can be due to hormone imbalances or fibroids. Additional causes include changing birth control pills, certain medications, excessive exercise, polycystic ovary disease, pregnancy or breast feeding, severe scarring of the lining of the uterus, stress or an overactive thyroid.
Treatment for oligomenorrhea can include hormone therapy to balance out irregularities, as well as diet changes and increased or less frequent exercising, whereas treatment for metrorrhagia or amenorrhea, range from simple hormone therapy to more serious surgery.
In any situation and no matter the age, anyone with a sudden change within their monthly cycles should call their doctor. A simple exam can be a big fix for an ongoing and sometimes hindering issue.
Dr. Elizabeth Elkinson is with KentuckyOne Health Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates.