What Heavy Bleeding Does To Our Bodies
Heavy periods are part and parcel of life with endometriosis. Since the age of twelve, I’ve passed clots the size of my head, have lost bucket-loads of blood, and stained almost every one of my clothes. There is a scene in The Shining with a corridor exploding into a river of blood. To anyone with heavy periods, that scene is not only extremely relevant, but it's also one we’ve probably used as a GIF to tell a friend how we’re doing.
While not everyone with endometriosis will suffer from heavy periods, suffering from a severe flow is a widely recognized symptom of the disease. An abnormally heavy menstrual flow may include soaking through a sanitary pad or tampons and waking up during the night with stained bedsheets. It will also involve passing large blood clots, or bleeding for more than a week. Some of us have bled for several weeks. It also means that whilst menstruating, we're always checking any seat we've sat on. As someone who has suffered years of heavy periods, I know the toll it takes.
Heavy bleeding and anemia
Anemia is a common side-effect of severe blood loss. Since my early teens, it was also a diagnosis I heard multiple times. Following doctors’ advice, my mother gave me all the iron supplements I could stomach. But it never improved. Most doctors, seeing my pale skin and grey shades under my eyes, told me to eat “better”. As an adult, one doctor half-joking, half-serious, told me I “needed more bacon”. No one thought about inquiring about my periods, or the amount of blood I lost every month.
Anemia happens when excessive bleeding causes someone to lose red blood cells more quickly than they can be replaced1. Severe blood-loss can easily result in an iron deficiency.
Symptoms of anemia include fatigue, weakness, irregular heartbeat, chest pains, lightheadedness, cold hands, and feet. If you suffer any of these, and especially if your energy levels are at a mighty low most of the time, it’s worth talking to a doctor.
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Heavy periods will leave you exhausted
During my periods, my flow would be extremely severe for three to four days. This would leave me completely depleted, meaning that not only could I barely function whilst bleeding, I’d be also minimally functional the days after. I once bled for almost two months, non-stop. My energy levels were continuously low and I felt light-headed most of the time. All I could do was rest, and despair at the list of things I couldn’t do.
Eventually, I had to admit this was no way of living. I simply couldn’t carry on spending twelve days in bed every month due to my periods. I called my endometriosis specialist, desperate for a solution.
Now, I no longer suffer from heavy periods
In fact, I don’t have any periods. My specialist prescribed me medroxyprogesterone acetate2, a form of progestin that prevents me from menstruating.
Apart from hormonal medication, other ways to tackle heavy periods3 include intrauterine contraception, tranexamic acid, or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS). There is also the possibility of surgery, such as endometrial ablation or a hysterectomy.
Heavy periods are incredibly debilitating and it is important that, if you suffer from them, you speak to a doctor that is able to understand their draining nature. Being told that “it’s just a bad period” is unacceptable. Behind any heavy bleeding, there are not only underlying health issues, but there are also effects that limit our ability to function. This is why any form of severe menstrual blood loss must be addressed with the proper care it deserves.
Have you heard about the new tampon technology currently being tested to detect endometriosis?