Heavy bleeding during period

Dear Alice,

I have a somewhat embarrassing question. Is there anything specific I can do in my diet or anything to where my PMS bleeding flow isn't so heavy? It has been so heavy that at times, I put a tampon in and in a matter of like 20 min, I have to change in the beginning of my cycle. I also have had it leak into my clothing. This can be quite embarrassing. Any help would be appreciated.


Dear June,

The amount of menstrual flow varies from person to person. Some experience a light flow while others have heavy periods. Some people experience heavier bleeding during the early stages of their periods. "Heavy" is a subjective term when it comes to menstrual flow. What seems heavy to some people may not be the case for others. Most  menstrual flows are around six to eight ounces over the course of a few days. You say that heavy bleeding occurs during the beginning of your cycle. Does the flow become lighter as your period progresses?

Menorrhagia is the medical term used for excessively heavy periods. Some signs of menorrhagia include:

  • Menstrual flow that soaks through at least one sanitary pad or tampon per hour
  • Having to change pads or tampons overnight
  • A period that lasts longer than seven days
  • Menstrual flow that includes blood clots
  • Menstrual flow that interferes with your routine

Usually menorrhagia is a symptom of a hormonal imbalance or uterine fibroids. Less frequently, pelvic inflammatory disease or reproductive cancers may be the cause. Taking certain anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin, can also result in heavier than normal menstrual flow.

A visit to your gynecologist or another women's health care provider can help shed some light on your questions. The provider can help you understand what is causing your heavy menstrual flow, talk with you about your concerns, and determine what might make it easier for you to manage it. Discussing the issue will also help you become more knowledgeable about and more comfortable with your body.

There is no healthy, scientifically proven way for people to reduce the amount of menstrual flow through what they eat or by taking medications. However, some people do report lighter periods while taking certain oral contraceptives.

Since it sounds as if tampons aren't always successful in preventing leaks, you may want to consider a few other options. For example, you can use both a tampon and a sanitary pad. Pads of various sizes can give you extra protection as back-up for tampons. You can even use thicker, longer pads that are specifically designed for heavy flow days. Also, pads with wings help deter the flow from dripping over the sides.

If you prefer an environmentally friendly alternative, there are washable, reusable pads available called "Glad Rags" (some are even sewn into underwear and sold as a package). Another option is the menstrual cup, a small, washable, and reusable cup-like pouch, similar to a diaphragm, that is inserted into the vagina to collect menstrual flow. The cup holds about an ounce of liquid and can be left in for up to twelve hours. Menstrual cups cost around 40 dollars, but they are reusable and can last between five and ten years (making them an affordable, and more environmentally friendly, alternative to disposable products over the long run). While some women find this acceptable as an alternative to tampons, others would rather not have to insert, remove, empty, and/or clean the cup, especially in a public bathroom where there is no privacy.

Speak with your health care provider to find out the cause of your heavy menstrual flow, and to learn how to manage it and feel more comfortable. This may include understanding how to prevent leakage, overflow, staining, and frequent trips to the bathroom to change your period paraphernalia. Hopefully, some of these products and ideas can help.

Last updated May 11, 2015
Originally published Mar 25, 2005

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