Normal periods can be painful and most women will, at one time or another, have suffered from ‘period pains’. Some women have very painful periods (called dysmenorrhoea), which can confine them to bed for a couple of days each cycle.
You can treat your period pains with over-the-counter painkillers, but if you have very painful periods, it’s best to make an appointment to see your doctor.
Some women suffer from heavy periods. This is called menorrhagia and is defined as excessively heavy and prolonged bleeding. Most women shed roughly 6 to 8 teaspoons of blood in a period, but it’s almost impossible in the real world to measure this. If you find that you need to change your tampon or sanitary pad very often (more often than is recommended by the manufacturer) and if you see large clots of blood, then you could be suffering from unusually heavy periods.
Heavy periods can be caused by a number of things, including a hormone imbalance, an IUD contraceptive device, or fibroids; although for lots of women, the cause can be unknown.
Heavy periods are not necessarily painful periods. However if you are unlucky enough to suffer from heavy, very painful periods and having your period actually stops you doing things for a couple of days a month, it’s worth going to see your doctor to talk about how you can treat the pain and the heavy periods.
It’s advisable to go and see your doctor if you continue having heavy periods, to make sure you don’t become anaemic (deficient in iron, making you feel tired and faint).
There are several treatments available to you, depending on the cause of your heavy bleeding. If it is caused by hormone imbalance, there are a number of drugs that can be prescribed to correct the imbalance. There are also prescription drugs that affect the way your blood clots and lead to a decrease in blood loss every month.
Some women find that, having had a completely regular cycle for a number of years, they realise that they have not had a period for 6 months or more. The first thing to do if this happens is to rule out pregnancy, either by doing a home pregnancy test or visiting your doctor or family planning clinic.
The medical term for missing your periods for more than 6 months is amenorrhoea. There are lots of reasons why your periods may suddenly stop, including putting on or losing weight very quickly, excessive exercise and stress. If you find that you are having hot flushes and a decreased interest in sex, it might be that you have the first signs of the menopause (peri-menopause).
Whatever your symptoms, it’s always a good idea to visit your doctor if your regular periods suddenly stop.