Understanding Heavy Periods
Let’s talk about heavy periods. I don’t know any woman who loves changing a tampon or pad every 2 hours. Do you? Today I’m focusing on the signs of heavy periods, what causes them, and what some natural treatment options to consider.
Symptoms of Heavy Periods
Menorrhagia is the official name for heavy periods – of course no one ever (aside from docs) use this term, but it’s important to know it. You might have heavy periods if you experience:
Losing more than 80mL of blood during the cycle
Bleeding that lasts more than 7 days
Bleeding that soaks through one or more tampons/pads less than two hours or for several hours in a row (see chart below)
Needing to wear more than one pad at a time to control menstrual flow
Waking up at night to change pads or tampons
Blood clots that are as big as a quarter or larger
Periods that interfere with daily activities (aka. standing up from a chair might be terrifying)
Iron deficiency (ie. cold hands and feet, hair loss, overall feeling fatigued, dizziness and lightheadedness).
Ideally, we should be losing only 20mL to 60mL of blood per cycle. If you’re losing more than 80mL then this could severely affect your iron status.
Use this chart to keep track of how many pads and tampons you are using throughout your cycle:
Risk factors of heavy bleeding
Risk factors include:
Relative with bleeding disorders/has been treated for excessive bleeding
History of anemia (aka. low iron)
Period longer than 7 days
Frequent brusing/nosebleeds/gum bleeding
Bleeding during pregnancy
Causes of Heavy Bleeding
These include: Von Willebrand disease, platelet function disorders, hemophilia and thrombocytopenia
These include: Anticoagulants /blood thinners, antidepressants, antipsychotics, corticosteroids, herbs, hormonal contraceptives, tamoxifen
Heavy Periods from a TCM perspective
Liver Qi Stagnation
Liver qi stagnation is incredibly common in women, as it usually stems from stress. Basically, qi (life force/energy) is no longer able to flow unobstructed throughout the body. The liver, whose main job it is to store blood is also no longer able to do so. The tongue may be dark in colour (ie. blue or purple), abdominal distention may be present along with breast distention, frustration, irritability and pain. Other period-related symptoms might occur such as irregular periods, no periods, and PMS.
If liver qi stagnation has been occurring for a while, this may lead to blood stagnation. Because the qi is not able to move smoothly throughout the body, the blood is also unable to do so. This may also be due to cold and heat in the body. Symptoms may include nose bleeds, heavy bleeding during periods, pain with periods (ie. a sharp stabbing pain), a darker flow and clots.
When the body is cold, it creates stasis. Think about it this way – when you are freezing, you are likely to snuggle in a blanket and curl up in a ball, rather than start exercising or being active.
Heat can often be drying and create difficulty in movement. This may result in early, bright red periods, constipation, nosebleeds, dry mouth, etc.
Treating Heavy Periods
Treating the Cause
Obviously there are many reasons why someone may be experiencing heavy periods. As a naturopathic doctor, one of my primary jobs is to discover the root cause of the problem and treat based on that.
As anemia can be a common occurrence in women with heavy periods, it’s essential to investigate iron and ferritin levels and use that information to supplement if needed. I like supplementing with iron, rather than increasing iron rich foods because blood changes will happen more quickly this way. Nevertheless, eating your fair share of leafy greens will have it’s own healthy benefits.
This vitamin helps to increase iron absorption, especially when you’re eating iron-rich food sources. A really easy way to incorporate greens and vitamin C together is by eating a salad! Add some red pepper, lemon juice, cabbage and even parsley to a salad can help increase iron and help with absorption!
Supporting TCM Theories
The reason why I love integrating traditional Chinese medicine into period-related conditions is because it really focuses on the mind-body connection. As you saw above, stress can greatly affect how our energy moves throughout the body. And if it’s not moving as well as it should, it can result in a variety of other symptoms.
That’s not to negate the importance of making sure you have enough ferritin in your body, but we are more than just our blood work and the foods we aren’t eating.
To support your body from a more holistic perspective, I would recommend visiting with a Naturopath to see how your symptoms fit into the bigger picture.
Heavy bleeding can happen for a variety of reasons and while everyone would prefer to use Dr. Google to figure out the right supplement to take to stop it, it’s incredibly important to get some blood work done to find out why it’s happening. Once you have that piece of the puzzle figured out, then you can choose the right treatment to get you back to feeling 100%.
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