Ah, periods: one of the great joys of being a woman, right? (I’m kidding, obviously.) Bleeding for several days out of every month is generally inconvenient, often messy, and not at all fun… But it is a fact of life. However, not all periods are created equal; some women have heavier periods than others.
While “heavy” is somewhat of a subjective term, there are certain characteristics that distinguish abnormally heavy periods. Bleeding that could be described as “gushing” or “flooding”, for example, is not normal. Going through eight or more pads or tampons in a single day is also not normal. If you’re experiencing atypical bleeding of this nature, uterine fibroids may be the source of the problem.
Heavy bleeding is one of the most common symptoms associated with fibroids. Research has shown that women with large fibroids are two and a half times more likely to require eight or more pads or tampons on their heaviest days than women who do not have fibroids. In a study examining the link between heavy bleeding and uterine fibroids, researchers interviewed a randomly-selected group of women between the ages of 35 and 39 about their heavy menstrual bleeding (also known as menorrhagia). Of those women who were diagnosed with fibroids, 46% described having experienced “gushing” or “flooding” during their period, while only 28% of women without fibroids reported bleeding of that nature.
Why fibroids can cause excessive bleeding is unclear. However, there are plenty of theories: some experts in the field of Gynecology believe that intramural fibroids (those that grow inside the walls of the uterus) stretch the lining of the uterus, enabling more of it to be shed during menstruation. Another theory suggests that the bleeding results from fibroids impinging upon veins in the uterus, creating pressure that dilates veins in the endometrium which, during menstruation, increases blood loss. One group of researchers identified small irregularities in the contractions of uterine veins surrounding fibroids and concluded that, since the contraction of these veins plays a role in regulating blood loss, the heavy bleeding was the result of this phenomenon. None of these theories have been universally accepted as an explanation for the link between fibroids and heavy bleeding, but as fibroid research continues, a clear answer may soon emerge.
Whether your heavy bleeding is attributable to fibroids or a different issue, it can lead to further problems if left untreated, particularly anemia. An iron deficiency associated with excessive blood loss, anemia is characterized by symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, and headache. To prevent complications of heavy bleeding like anemia, women who experience especially heavy periods should consult a gynecologist right away; if you need help finding a gynecologist, our Physician Finder tool can help you identify qualified doctors in your area.
- Istre, O. “Management of symptomatic fibroids: conservative surgical treatment modalities other than abdominal or laparoscopic myomectomy”, Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2008;Vol. 22, No. 4, p. 737
- Wegienka G, et al. “Self-reported heavy bleeding associated with uterine leiomyomata”. Obstetrics & Gynecology, 2003, Vol 101: pp. 431–437
- Burbank, F. Fibroids, Menstruation, Childbirth, and Evolution: The Fascinating Story of Uterine Blood Vessels, p. 107. Wheatmark, 2009. Tucson, AZ.
- Heavy Menstrual Bleeding in Fibroids” Fibroid.net retr.12/22/14 http://www.fibroid.net/heavy-menstrual-bleeding-in-fibroids