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Olwen Anderson's Blog

Flooding heavy periods; what they mean

Monday, July 25, 2016
It’s usual for your period to be a little heavier on some days; but it’s not normal when your period is so heavy you feel uncertain about leaving home; or if you get sudden floods of flow that come out in a gush; again, potentially overwhelming whatever sanitary protection you have in place.

Flooding or over-heavy periods can signal a serious problem that calls for medical attention; so in some cases your naturopath will suggest medical investigations also take place to support your natural treatment. 

First, let’s look at what’s supposed to happen:
The lining of your uterus should build up gradually in the first two weeks of your cycle, under the direction of oestrogen. Then, after ovulation, increasing progesterone prompts your uterine lining to mature, to a point where it could well look after any fertilised egg that embeds in it. But if the egg isn’t fertilised your hormone levels drop and, without those ongoing directives from oestrogen and progesterone, the lining is shed. The total amount? Less than 80mls (but who measures??) You would think this loss would happen in a tidy fashion, like an ice block melting; but instead the lining is shed in a piecemeal fashion; a clump here, a clump there, until it’s all shed. 

That’s what’s supposed to happen; but for many women that’s not what happens. Here are some of the causes, then I’ll set out some of the naturopathic treatments.

1. An imbalance between oestrogen and progesterone can create an excessively thick or poorly formed lining that sheds in an equally untidy fashion. Remember that oestrogen promotes growth, progesterone promotes maturing of the lining. So if you have too much oestrogen in comparison to progesterone you can over-grow an untidy, poorly structured endometrial lining.

2. A body that’s inflamed creates higher levels of prostaglandins. Inflammation promotes dilation of blood vessels and affects blood clotting too.

3. Fibroids, or leiomyomas, are benign growths that can develop within the uterus and sometimes cause heavy periods. They can grow so big they affect your bladder function. Often hormone imbalances, stress and a sedentary lifestyle contribute to their development. Your doctor can arrange ultrasound to confirm whether you have fibroids, and monitor their size.

4. Uterine polyps are abnormal growths that can develop when cell building and breakdown isn’t happening in a tidy fashion. Because they behave differently to healthy cells, they can cause flooding. Like intestinal polyps, they’re regarded as potentially unsafe, a sign that cells are unhealthy. 

5. Endometriosis or adenomyosis are the technical terms for growth of endometrial cells outside the uterus or within the uterus muscle wall rather than on the inside surface of the womb. If you have endometriosis or adenomyosis you’ll know – the pain is excruciating.

6. Pelvic inflammation due to infection can produce flooding. Where there’s inflammation, there’s prostaglandins, which means changes to blood clotting and often pain too.

7. An IUD (or mirena coil) can produce heavy bleeding; but if you have this device installed you really should see your medical doctor for investigation (as the device may have slipped out of place).

8. Having your ‘tubes tied’, or a tubal ligation (where your fallopian tubes are surgically blocked) shouldn’t change your menstrual pattern, including to promote flooding. But my clinical experience has been that sometimes, it does. Whether it changes hormones or whether it’s from the trauma of surgery, I don’t know. 

9. Blood clotting disorders can cause menstrual flooding. 

10. An under-active thyroid gland (called hypothyroidism) can bring on heavy periods. Sorting out whether the cause of your heavy/flooding periods is hypothyroidism rather than oestrogen dominance is something your practitioner can help define.

11. If you have diabetes and are obese you might develop heavy periods (fat cells and insulin resistance affect your hormones). This is often the case in PCOS, where metabolic dysfunction and hormone imbalance collaborate to produce some really ugly symptoms.

12. Poor liver function can influence your periods, because your liver is where excess hormones are cleared from your bloodstream. Often you’ll notice your blood tests show a low level of SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin). 
So, what can your naturopath do to help heavy or flooding periods?

Your naturopath’s first task will be to locate the underlying cause – examining your hormone balance as well as assessing for the presence of inflammation, stress, excess fat cells, insulin resistance, thyroid problems, sluggish liver function, inadequate diet – in other words, looking at your health in a holistic way.

Herbs are my preferred tool for managing heavy or flooding periods. We may use a liquid herbal mixture, or tablets combining herbs and nutrients. Sometimes I prefer to use homoeopathic remedies. Which herbs or homoeopathics we use will depend on the severity of your symptoms and what is evident as the underlying cause. Expect some directives about altering your diet, fitness training or stress management if they’re contributing.

How long will it take to resolve? My rule-of-thumb for addressing hormonal problems is to anticipate a reasonable response within three months – although your symptoms are likely to improve in the first cycle. If your presenting symptoms are so severe that I don’t think herbs will be enough; or if I suspect something more serious is behind it all, expect to be directed to see your doctor also. (Usually I will write a written referral to your doctor to provide background that gives them a head start).

Now you know what can cause flooding or heavy periods, and what can be done about them, don’t wait for another difficult cycle to happen – reach out for help.

If you enjoyed this article you might also enjoy 'Why Your Hormones Can Misbehave In Perimenopause'

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