Contraception For Heavy Periods
Also known as menorrhagia, heavy periods are common, and it could be that they are just normal for you during your menstrual cycle. However, you may find that your heavy periods significantly impact your day-to-day life.
The good news is, there’s no reason why you should struggle with heavy periods. There are treatments available that can help to make them more manageable - including some types of contraception. Certain contraceptives can ease heavy periods by thinning the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) and preventing ovulation. In turn, this can change your menstrual flow, often by making it lighter, shorter or, in some cases, by stopping it altogether .
But what type of birth control for heavy periods is right for you? Here, you can find out more about heavy periods, including what they are, what causes them, when you should see your doctor and which method of contraception could help also ease your menstrual flow each month. Always speak to your doctor or pharmacist before making your decision.
What is a heavy period?
How much and how long you bleed during your period varies from person to person. Heavy periods usually refers to a person experiencing a significant amount of bleeding when their menstrual cycle begins.
You may have heavy periods if:
- You need to change your sanitary pad or tampon every 1 to 2 hours, including during the night, or if you need to empty your menstrual cup more frequently than is recommended
- You often use two types of sanitary products at the same time, such as a pad and a tampon
- Your periods last longer than 7 days
- You often bleed through your clothing or bedding
- You pass blood clots that are bigger than a 10p coin
- You cannot manage to carry out daily activities, exercise or go to work because of your periods
- You feel fatigued or experience shortness of breath
What causes heavy periods?
Heavy periods can be normal, and you may find that your period is heavy at different times. For example, you may notice that it’s heavier when you first start your period, following pregnancy or during menopause.
However, heavy periods can also be caused by underlying problems, such as:
- A condition affecting the womb, ovaries or hormones (e.g. endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, pelvic inflammatory disease or fibroids)
- Certain medications or treatments (e.g. chemotherapy or anticoagulant medicines)
- Depression and stress
In some cases, heavy periods can be a symptom of womb cancer, although this is rare.
If left untreated, extreme heavy periods can lead to iron deficiency anaemia as a result of significant blood loss.
When to see your doctor about your heavy period
While heavy periods can be normal, for some people they can be extremely debilitating. You should see your doctor about this issue if it is affecting your quality of life and preventing you from doing regular everyday tasks.
You should also seek medical advice if:
- You have been experiencing heavy periods for a long time
- You notice bleeding between your periods or after sex
- You experience severe pain at the time of your periods
- Your heavy period is accompanied by other symptoms, such as pain while having sex or when you go to the toilet
Treating heavy periods
Heavy periods don’t always need to be treated, but if they are impacting your day-to-day life, there are treatments available that can help make them more manageable.
Your doctor may suggest that you use a medicine to reduce bleeding such as tranexamic acid or that your choice of contraception can help manage heavy periods. Below, you can find a breakdown of some of the most commonly used contraceptive types and how they can help you manage your heavy periods.
The progestogen-only pill
The progestogen-only pill (POP) helps prevent pregnancy by thickening the mucus in the cervix, which makes it more difficult for sperm to pass through it to reach an egg. The desogestrel POP can also stop ovulation.
If used correctly, this pill can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. Also known as a mini pill, it is taken every day without any breaks, and it must be taken at the same time every day.
Many people notice that a POP makes their periods lighter, irregular or even stop altogether. A mini pill can be used by people who have heavy periods.
The combined pill
Often referred to simply as “the pill”, the combined pill contains artificial versions of the female hormones oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones help prevent ovulation and thicken the mucus at the entrance of the womb to prevent sperm from fertilising the eggs.
When taken correctly, the combined pill can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. In order for it to be effective, one pill is taken every day for 21 days, and then there is a 7-day break. During this break, you will experience a bleed like a period. After the 7-day break, you resume taking the pill.
The intrauterine system (IUS)
A small T-shaped plastic device which is inserted into the uterus, an intrauterine system (IUS) releases the hormone progestogen to prevent you from falling pregnant. It lasts for around three to five years, and if inserted correctly, it can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. The IUS can be removed at any time, and it is possible to get pregnant straight after it has been taken out.
The vaginal ring
The vaginal ring is a small, soft plastic ring which is inserted into the vagina. It is designed to steadily release a continuous dose of oestrogen and progestogen into the bloodstream to stop the release of an egg. It also thickens the cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to move through the cervix, therefore preventing pregnancy.
If used correctly, the vaginal ring is more than 99% effective. It is left in for 21 days, then removed for a 7-day break. After this break, a new ring is inserted for the next 21 days.
The contraceptive patch
The contraceptive patch is a small, sticky patch which is placed on the skin. It releases hormones into the body through your skin, and if used correctly, it can be up to 99% effective at preventing pregnancy. One patch lasts for one week, and you will need to change the patch once a week for three weeks, then have a week without wearing a patch.
It is known to make periods more regular, lighter and less painful, meaning it can help if you experience heavier periods.
The contraceptive implant
The contraceptive implant is a small plastic rod that’s inserted under the skin in the upper arm. It releases the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream, preventing pregnancy for up to three years. It can be up to 99% effective.
This method of contraception can help reduce heavy periods by making them lighter. It can also stop them altogether, which can be considered to be a disadvantage for some but a benefit for others, especially those who struggle with a heavy, painful flow each month.
The contraceptive injection
The contraceptive injection works by releasing the hormone progestogen into the bloodstream to prevent pregnancy. In the UK, there are a number of different contraceptive injections available, and depending on which one you have, it can last for 8 or 13 weeks. If the injection is used correctly, it can be more than 99% effective.
If you opt for the contraceptive injection, you may notice a change in your period, but this can vary from person to person. There is a possibility that your periods will become lighter, shorter or even stop altogether, but there is also a chance that they become heavier.