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Are heavy periods a ‘normal’ part of ageing?

In Australia, HMB is defined as excessive blood loss during a period that compromises physical, emotional, social and daily activities, occurring alone or with other symptoms

<p>Heavy menstrual bleeding involves abnormally heavy or long menstrual periods that compromise physical, emotional, social and daily activities, occurring alone or with other symptoms. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

Heavy menstrual bleeding involves abnormally heavy or long menstrual periods that compromise physical, emotional, social and daily activities, occurring alone or with other symptoms. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points:

  • New Australian research involving 5,000 women aged 35-52 years reveals three in four — 72 percent — have experienced heavy periods
  • 28 percent of research participants reported experiencing heavy periods often and always
  • Women who have experienced heavy menstrual bleeding reportedly felt reluctant to share news of HMB with a doctor

 

Research commissioned by health-tech company Hologic revealed that many Australian women could be suffering in silence. The survey of 5,000 women aged 35 – 52 years uncovered that 69 percent of women with heavy periods reported ‘embarrassing experiences’ seeking menstrual health support.

Additionally, many believed that HMB was just a natural part of womanhood and came with the territory, prompting advocates to speak out against the stigma.

Two-time athletics World Champion, four-time Commonwealth Champion, women’s health doctor, author and mother-of-six, Jana Pittman, 40, has teamed up with doctors and women across Australia to champion the dialogue, diagnosis and treatment of HMB.

“By not openly discussing their period health, these women are at serious risk of under-diagnosis and undertreatment, noting almost half of the research respondents had no, or limited knowledge of HMB treatments,” Ms Pittman said.

 

“It shouldn’t be this ‘bloody difficult.’

 

“If you, a family member or a friend are experiencing symptoms of HMB — get help. See your GP or a gynaecologist without delay,” Jana said.

Key symptoms of HMB reported by Australian women included:

  • Feeling weak, lacking energy and/or having a pale appearance — 59 percent
  • Being bothered by bleeding or pain — 48 percent
  • Needing to change pads or tampons every one to two hours — 42 percent

 

Obstetrician and Gynaecologist Dr Simona Fischer, founding member of Adelaide Obstetrics and Fertility, said many women misunderstand menstrual health and that can lead to delayed diagnoses.

“Many women are unaware of what a normal period entails, including typical menstrual length, volume of blood loss, symptoms and management options available,” Dr Fischer said.

One study found that among women ages 42 to 52, more than 90 percent experienced periods that lasted 10 days or more — with 78 percent reporting their blood flow as ‘heavy.’

Dr Fischer said that heavy periods were a common sign of perimenopause, which is the transitional stage to menopause, but can impact younger women through hormonal changes.

“In the younger sort of demographic, the heavy bleeding is potentially marked by heavy usage of oral contraceptive agents, so sometimes that’s the starting point.

“It is very common for your periods to get heavier as you get older and I guess people just don’t expect it.

“They think they’ve had their kids or whatnot and the cycle is just going to continue as it was in their 20s, but it’s common to have heavier bleeding around their perimenopause.”

Annie, 55, endured severe cramps, iron deficiency and exhaustion for a decade, mistakenly thinking they were normal period symptoms.

“I thought HMB was something I had to deal with. I was super busy, prioritising my business, and caring for my family and chose not to prioritise my own health,” she said.

“I felt physically drained, iron deficient and made regular visits to the bathroom to change sanitary protection, which made training for my ultra trails exceptionally challenging.

“It was only when I was severely cramping one day, hurled over in pain and unable to stand up, that I finally realised what I was going through wasn’t normal.”

Kama, 43, an accounting firm principal and mother, told Talking Aged Care journalist David McManus that she sought treatment after she had been rendered bedridden and housebound on her cycle.

“I was having to change clothes and sheets on, like, a very regular basis — each cycle — it wasn’t just once or twice. I would have to live in black clothes, I had to have black sheets. There was just so much that had to be done to account for it,” she said.

“Over the last decade, I had pretty heavy periods that got worse and worse, particularly over the last four years specifically […] so, whilst I was seeking support, I was getting different tests done, blood tests done, checking to see if it was my hormones.”

In addition to perimenopause, contributing factors to HMB may include:

  • ​Fluctuations in the levels of two important hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which can disrupt the menstrual cycle
  • Blood clotting conditions, such as Willebrand disease or platelet function disorders
  • Pre-existing conditions, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, an underactive thyroid or structural differences in the uterus, including abnormal growths

Kama said that she had been frustrated by the lack of answers from specialists, who were dismissive of her HMB as simply a ‘natural’ part of ageing, when in fact, there was more to it than that.

“When it gets to the stage that it is affecting your life, to the point that you can’t operate on your daily sort of basis or at capacity for your minimum daily basis, that’s when you have to push for more than you’re being told,” she added.

For more information about HMB and treatment options, head to livecomfortably.com.au.

 

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