What is menorrhagia? Why you should never ignore heavy periods

Click to play video 'What is menorrhagia? Why you should talk to your doctor about heavy periods' What is menorrhagia? Why you should talk to your doctor about heavy periods
WATCH: According to one doctor, it’s normal to have a heavy menstrual cycle from time to time.

If there are any abnormalities in periods, women often notice it right away. However, some experts say instead of talking to their doctors about it, many ignore it altogether.

A recent survey from the U.K. awareness site Wear White Again, found 62 per cent of respondents didn’t realize heavy periods were a common medical term called menorrhagia, and 49 per cent thought heavy periods were normal.

Menorrhagia is a term used to describe heavy and prolonged periods, but experts say sometimes, it could just be a normal period with heavy bleeding.

Dr. Jennifer Pearlman of PearlMD Rejuvenation in Toronto, says heavy flow is quite common for women approaching menopause.

“[Their] cycle may be shorter with heavier flow. Occasional heavy cycles may result if there was something unusual about ovulation that particular cycle …  if heavy flow persists on a more regular basis, medical evaluation is warranted.”
Story continues below advertisement

heavy periods

She adds heavy bleeding can also be a sign of other health issues.

“Heavy abnormal menstrual bleeding may be a sign of underlying hormonal issues, thyroid disease or a bleeding tendency such as thrombophilia or hemophilia, which are often familial,” she tells Global News.

READ MORE: Period Party — menstruation kit for dolls aims to ease puberty talk

What makes it menorrhagia?

According to the Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research in Vancouver, period flow more than 80 ml (or 16 sanitary products) per period would be classified as menorrhagia.

“Most women bleeding this heavily will have a low blood count (anemia) or evidence of iron deficiency. In practice only about a third of women have anemia, so the definition of heavy flow can be adjusted to be more like nine to 12 soaked regular-sized sanitary products in a period,” the centre notes.

Story continues below advertisement

Talking about periods

David Page, executive director at Canadian Hemophilia Society (CHS), says periods, in general, are not an easy topic for women to talk about.

“A daughter may have similar menstruation compared to her mother and grandmother, and they see it as normal and normalize it,” he tells Global News.

READ MORE: Period art show aims to shock, open up dialogue about menstruation

This is often the reason, he adds, many women with irregular periods don’t contact their family doctors — they believe a heavy period is just part of their normal cycle.

Pearlman adds she can see why talking about periods can be uncomfortable for some.

While open conversations regarding menstruation, vaginal bleeding or any other vaginal symptom such as itch, discharge or odour changes are common in my practice with patients, there are indeed some for cultural or religious reasons that may be less comfortable,” she says. “I believe it is the job of a good medical provider to take a compassionate, non-judgmental approach to help patients identify potentially worrisome symptoms that may require further investigation and treatment.”

Other health concerns

Page adds von Willebrand disease, a disorder that can cause menorrhagia, is still highly undiagnosed in Canada. He adds research states 1 in 1,000 people have the disease, and if ignored it can lead to serious health problems.

Story continues below advertisement

With his work, the CHS focuses on raising awareness of bleeding disorders and when you should talk to your family doctor about irregularities.

Dr. Paula James, a hematologist at Kingston General Hospital in Ontario, has created a self-administered bleeding assessment tool (Self-BAT), to help women understand their bleeding patterns.

For treatments, Pearlman says there are several options for women to consider, and they should always talk to their family doctor to see which one is right for them.

READ MORE: ‘The Period Game’ is here to bust menstruation myths

“First there are ways to help women control their bleeding such as anti-inflammatories like Naprosyn and medication to help coagulate and stop bleeding like tranexamic acid,” she says. “For some women, oral contraceptives may be the most effective way to regulate the cycle and reduce bleeding volume.”

Page says with menorrhagia in general, always talk to your doctor about irregular bleeding to avoid long-term consequences.