Posts tagged ‘fibroids’

So, you think you have heavy periods?

Whenever I ask a patient “do you have heavy periods?”  I feel like I deserve the kinds of answers I receive.  I’m just as likely to hear “Yes.  I have to change a panty liner every few hours.” As to hear, “No.  I only go through one box of super-overnight maxi-pads per day now.  It used to be two boxes.”  Which is to say that every woman perceives whether or not her periods are heavy through the filter of her own personal experience.  

So, what exactly is a heavy period?  Well, the standard definition is a period that lasts longer than 7 days or in which a woman loses more than 80 millileters of blood.   The first definition is easy.  You just count the days on a calendar.  The second is much more difficult to determine.  (Unless you go wringing your sanitary products into graduated cylinder flasks.  In which case, maybe you need a psychiatrist, not a gynecologist.) 

So, how is the average woman to know what constitutes a truly heavy period?  If you’re saturating your pad or tampon every hour, it’s a good bet your period is heavier than average.  Similarly, if you tend to bleed through your tampon, onto your pad, and soak your pants, you probably need to see a doctor (and a good dry cleaner).  

There are lots of reasons why women get heavy periods.  The medical term for them is menorrhagia. Heavy menses aren’t just an inconvenience.  They’re a real medical problem which can result in anemia (a reduced blood count) and fatigue.  They can also be a sign of other serious medical conditions. 

Adolescents and teens may have heavy, irregular periods as they begin to establish their menstrual cycle.  These natural fluctuations in the menstrual cycle are often temporary, and usually resolve when monthly menses begin over the next few months to years.  Adolescents and teens with very heavy menses, or whose cycles do not become lighter on their own, may need to be evaluated for bleeding disorders, such as von Willebrand disease.

Women in their reproductive years may have heavy menses or irregular cycles because of hormonal conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), which can cause irregular menses and heavy menstrual bleeding on the rare occasions when menses take place.  Another hormonal condition which can case heavy menses is an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism).  Both of these conditions can cause excess weight gain.  Being overweight (even in the absence of other medical conditions) can worsen heavy menstruation.  This is because adipose (fat) tissue produces excess estrogen, thickening the lining of the uterus.  When the lining is shed at the end of the menstrual cycle, heavier bleeding occurs.

Hormonal conditions may be suspected on the basis of a physical exam, history, blood tests, ultrasound (sonogram) or a combination thereof.  A combination of medication and dietary and/or lifestyle changes may be helpful in regulating the menstrual cycle and reducing bleeding.

Certain medications can lead to heavy menses.  Blood thinners (Coumadin, Lovenox) and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (Motrin, Advil, Ibuprofen and Aspirin) can increase menstrual bleeding.  Missed doses of oral contraceptives can also lead to heavy menses or irregular cycles.

Some women have heavy menses due to abnormalities of the uterus and its lining.  An endometrial polyp is a growth of tissue in the lining of the uterus.  Because polyps have a rich blood supply, they can cause heavy bleeding either during or between menses.  Uterine fibroids can also cause heavy menses.  Fibroids are benign muscle tumors which can impinge on the lining of the uterus, causing heavy menstrual bleeding.  They can also cause other symptoms (such as pain, pelvic pressure, frequent urination, miscarriage) which likewise bring them to a doctor’s attention.  Both endometrial polyps and uterine fibroids are readily diagnosed by an ultrasound (sonogram).  Bleeding due to polyps and fibroids can often be managed with the use of minimally invasive surgical techniques (such as hysteroscopy and laparoscopy).

The most serious cause of heavy menstrual bleeding, especially in women who resume menstrual-like bleeding after the cessation of normal periods (menopause), is endometrial cancer.  This type of cancer is rare in women under the age of 35 and is much more common after menopuause.  Endometrial cancer may be suspected on the basis of an ultrasound (sonogram).  It can be diagnosed by a biopsy or by a surgical procedure called a dilatation and curettage (D and C).  Endometrial cancer is often responsive to treatment when caught early.  

In summary, heavy menses are very common.  They may represent a normal variation in a healthy woman’s cycle, or they may be due to a medical condition which requires treatment.  Attention from a skilled healthcare provider can help determine whether additional care is needed.

A Good Resource:

ACOG Guide to Abnormal Uterine Bleeding

One Last Cartoon:

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October 7, 2011 at 3:34 am 33 comments

Demystifying Hysterectomy Part II: “How and why is hysterectomy performed?”

A hysterectomy can be performed in several ways. Minimally invasive surgical techniques include the removal of the uterus (and/or ovaries) through laparoscopy, a surgical technique which involves the insertion of long thin instruments through very small holes in the patient’s abdomen.  Hysterectomy can also be done via the vagina in a procedure called vaginal hysterectomy.  Despite the proven benefits of minimally invasive surgical techniques, the most common method of removing the uterus is still through an open abdominal incision called a laparotomy.  

Hysterectomy is used to treat a number of gynecologic conditions including uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, intractable pelvic pain, pelvic organ prolapse, and certain types of cancer.  It may also be required in certain types of emergencies (such as hemorrhage during childbirth) or electively (in persons undergoing gender reassignment).

May 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm 3 comments


Linda M. Nicoll, MD

Welcome to my blog! Here you will find information about minimally invasive gynecologic surgery as well as some more general information about common gynecologic disorders such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, fibroids, infertility, and pelvic pain.

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