A menstrual period is a bleed from the uterus (womb) that is released through the vagina. It happens approximately every 28 days, although anywhere between 24 and 35 days is common.

What is menorrhagia?

Menorrhagia is the medical name for heavy periods. Menorrhagia is defined as excessive (heavy) bleeding that occurs over several consecutive menstrual cycles. Heavy bleeding does not necessarily mean that there is anything seriously wrong, but it can affect a woman physically, emotionally and socially, and can cause disruption to everyday life.

How much is heavy bleeding?

The amount of blood that is lost during a woman's period can vary considerably for each woman, so it is difficult to define exactly what a heavy period is. If a woman feels that she is using an unusually high number of tampons or pads, experiences flooding through to the clothes or needs to use tampons and towels together, it is a good indication that her blood loss is excessive.

What causes periods to be heavy?

In 40-60% of women with heavy periods, there is no underlying cause. In these cases, women are said to have dysfunctional uterine bleeding. However, in some cases there is underlying cause.

Causes of menorrhagia include:

  • cervical or endometrial polyps - benign growths in the lining of the cervix or womb cavity;
  • uterine fibroids
  • intrauterine contraceptive device (IUD, the coil) - blood loss may increase by 40-50% after a coil is inserted;
  • pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) - infection in the pelvis which can cause pelvic pain and bleeding after sexual intercourse or between periods;
  • liver,renal or thyroid disease,
  • cancer of the womb (although this is very rare).

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An endometrial polyp