The menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman. On an average, menstrual flow occurs every 28 days and lasts about 4 days. A small percentage of women have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days. Though the timing and duration varies with each woman, they are still considered normal as long as it stops within 4 or 5 days.
In general, women maintain a period pattern. It can occur roughly at the same date or 2-3 days earlier from your LMP (last month period) each month. However, at certain age, the frequency between periods start fluctuating considerably, making it extremely difficult or even impossible to track.
Prolonged periods is a period that lasts longer than 7 days. A woman experiences heavy bleeding during this period, say you completely soak through a sanitary pad or tampon every hour for 2-3 consecutive hours. Also termed as irregular period, prolonged or continuous bleeding arises when women do not properly develop and release a mature egg every month, as they should normally.
Most women will probably suffer prolonged or continuous menstrual bleeding at some point in their lifetime. Prolonged and continuous bleeding can cause mood disturbance and can significantly affect a woman's life. It can even get worse if not given the necessary attention.
Types of Prolonged periods
There are different types of irregular periods or prolonged periods. They are classified based on the various response produced in woman.
Irregular periods affecting frequency of menstruation
Polymenorrhea: frequent periods with intervals of 21 days or less
Oligomenorrhea: infrequent or short menstrual periods where frequency exceeds 35 days in between menstruation
Amenorrhea: absence of periods for more than 60 days in a woman of reproductive age
Irregular periods producing pain during menstruation
Dysmenorrhea: cramps or painful menstruation accompanied by either pain, usually in the pelvis or lower abdomen)
Irregular periods that affect quantity of menstruation
Hypomenorrhea: decrease or shortening of the duration of menstruation)
Menorrhagia: heavy or prolonged menstruation associated with abnormally painful period.
Prolonged menstruation and Perimenopause
Perimenopause is a condition that occurs before menopause. It lasts much longer than menopause, say 10 -15 years in a woman. The symptoms of perimenopause occur especially during the periods. This might include hot flashes, night sweats, irregular periods, anxiety, depression, irritability, difficulty sleeping, heart palpitations, loss of or decreased sexual desire, vaginal dryness and inability to hold urine.
Perimenopause occurs in a woman's body especially to help her adjust to the changing hormonal levels and absence of periods. During perimenopause, a woman experiences major change in the monthly period cycles. Some women start out by getting their periods at 28 days and slowly it will become 35 days then 48 days and sometimes it could be some months before they actually get their periods.
Also during this period, the ovaries slowly stop functioning. When the ovaries stop functioning, neither eggs nor estrogen is produced in a woman's body. Estrogen is very important for a woman especially for regular periods and pregnancy. Hence, it is advised that woman start taking vitamin or hormonal supplements before her menopause.
Remember, when there is an absence of periods for a long time, then fibroids or cysts are likely to be formed in the uterus. After a while if periods start, the bleeding will be excessive resulting in prolonged menstruation. Ensure to check with your doctor the moment you feel some irregularity or pains during your periods.
Causes of Prolonged Menstruation
A variety of causes contributes to prolonged menstruation or irregular period. Few of them can be:
- Psychological causes including stress, fear, grief, overexertion, or fatigue that affects the emotional stability and functional balance of the body.
- Physiological causes like hormonal disturbances that occurs during peri-menopausal.
- Low levels of thyroid or pituitary function can result in heavy or prolonged period.
- Low levels of calcium can lead to profuse bleeding
- Fibroids and cysts
- Drugs like anticoagulants, steroids, or blood thinners can cause prolonged bleeding
- Anovulation, (failure of ovaries to produce mature or release eggs)
- Endometrial (the inner lining of the uterus) polyps
- Thickening of the uterine wall or Endometrial hyperplasia
- Endometrial cancer
- Uterine fibroids
- Pregnancy complications including miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy, where a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus
- Changes in birth control pills or estrogens that you take
- Use of an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control
- Recent trauma, surgery or other uterine procedure
- Pelvic inflammatory disease or other infection
Treatment and Home care for prolonged menstruation
The treatment for prolonged menstruation depends on the cause.
- Irregular periods or prolonged menstruation caused by anxiety or stress can be treated by taking proper rest coupled with an exercise program. Always remember, for most of the conditions, including prolonged bleeding, a combination of psychological and physical exercises is the best option. If the mind and body is fresh and clear, no disease can take over.
- If you have imbalanced hormonal levels, try maintaining healthy amounts of hormones through healthy diet and hormonal pills as suggested by your doctor.
Though there are several ways to treat prolonged and continuous menstruation, the best choice is combination of lifestyle approaches and alternative medicine.
Coming to home care, maintain record of menstrual cycles including when menstruation begins and ends, how much flow you have (count number of pads and tampons used). Also note any other symptoms you may experience. Tampons should be changed at least twice a day to avoid infection. Avoid aspirin as it may cause prolonged bleeding. Try Ibuprofen instead of aspirin for relieving menstrual cramps. Ensure that you take enough bed rest especially when bleeding is heavy.