As soon as my periods started at twelve years old, they had a huge impact on my life. By the time I was fifteen, I was regularly missing school, sports, and social events when it was ‘that time of the month.’ Our school summer skirts were very pale baby blue and, throughout the summer, I dreaded the time when I would stand up and hear the shout of someone saying that I had leaked. I could not wear what I wanted, go where I wanted, do activities that I wanted to do – and all because of my period.
In my teens, my periods regularly lasted for 8-10 days. During that time, I could fully expect a 3-day window in which I was having to change a heavy flow sanitary towel every hour or so. Accompanying these heavy periods, I suffered with constant stomach pain, diarrhoea, migraines, shivers, fatigue, severe anxiety and moodiness. The worst symptoms always came with the periods of extremely heavy flow. When I was an older teenager, I started taking the hormonal contraceptive pill. This was not because I was sexually active, but because my GP hoped it would help with the debilitating symptoms I suffered that started every 28 days, like clockwork.
And I am not alone.
Almost 3.5 million women in the UK suffer with heavy periods – that is more than 1 in 5 – and I was, and am, one of those women. Wear White Again was founded to enable women who suffer from Heavy Menstrual Bleeding (menorrhagia) to understand that they do not have to suffer in silence.
Wear White Again
So what is a heavy period?
A heavy period can be categorised as:
- bleeding that lasts more than 7 days per cycle
- bleeding so severe that a sanitary pad or tampon must be changed every hour for several hours in a row
- heavy flow that keeps you from your normal activities, or even stops you from working
- bleeding with large blood clots
- feeling very tired or weak and often feeling depressed or moody
- constant pain in the lower part of your stomach during your cycle
The impact that these symptoms can have is huge. Research sponsored by Wear White Again demonstrated that heavy periods can seriously affect the wellbeing and quality of life of those who experience them. 58% of the women asked have felt unable to carry out their daily routine while having a heavy period. 86% have bled through their clothes and 85% through their bedding. I still regularly bleed onto my bedding, so I certainly relate to this statistic. A third of women also say they have missed out on sports or other activities and many even suggested missing holidays and time with friends and family.
I remember several occasions when my periods stopped me from doing the same – when I was selected to represent my house in a swimming competition, when I missed out on going on schools trips because I would not have the opportunity to changes towels. There are countless family get-togethers and social events that I have missed, or felt too anxious and unwell to enjoy them.
During the times I was suffering the worst, I thought there was nothing I could to do but stock up on painkillers and pads and hide under my duvet for a few days until it passed.
But I was wrong.
Treatment for Heavy Periods
Talking about periods is still taboo, and it can be embarrassing, especially when you are a teenager. When I told people how much I was suffering, many tended to be quite dismissive. I have rarely encountered sympathy when I needed time off school, and even work, because of my symptoms. But did you know that there are many causes of heavy periods and that many of these causes have treatments?
Causes of heavy periods include fibroids, endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), adenomyosis – an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) and cervical or endometrial polyps.
Treatment for heavy periods should always be discussed with a doctor. However, depending on each individual’s circumstances there may be several treatment options available. For example:
- Intrauterine system e.g. the coil
- Medication (hormonal and non-hormonal) e.g. contraceptive pill
- Endometrial ablation e.g. Novasure
- Uterine Artery Embolisation (UAE)
- Myomectomy – removal of fibroids or polyps from the womb
To help people have those difficult conversations, the Wear White Again team have created the Talking Heavy Periods guide. They take a look at some of the questions we should be asking about periods. Many women may not be sure about what’s “normal” and when, in fact, someone might need to seek help. If you do think you have heavy periods, the guide is a great place to find information that will help you talk to your GP or Nurse.
When I was younger, hormonal medication in the form of the contraceptive pill (prescribed for that purpose) helped me to manage when I had heavy periods. These days my symptoms are slowly improving on their own. Since having children my periods have reduced to five days in duration, and I only really now suffer through one or two days where the flow is difficult to manage. As I now work from home, I have the luxury of being able to stay in and look after myself during these times. I understand how lucky I am to be able to do this.
For many women, the condition has financial implications too. 23% of women in Wear White Again’s survey said that their career or job had been affected.
If you suffer from heavy periods and you have never considered speaking to your GP, or that there may well be a way to reduce their impact, then Wear White Again are there to help you get started. Make sure you check out their website and the Talking Heavy Periods guide which explains the words and phrases we feel comfortable using to describe periods, and how best to talk to our loved ones or GP about heavy periods.
Please note, this is a paid collaboration with Wear White Again, but all words and opinions are my own. For more information, see our disclosure policy.