Menstrual periods occur in all females from the onset of puberty (average age of onset 11 or 12 years) and last until menopause in middle age. They occur when the lining of the uterus is shed via vaginal bleeding due to the girl or woman not being pregnant.
The length of a menstrual period varies from two days to seven days, on average 28 days apart. However, this cycle can vary too and anything between 24 and 35 days is considered normal.
If you are having a prolonged menstrual cycle this is abnormal, unless you are approaching menopause (usually between the ages of 45-55). Extra-long periods can result from hormonal changes and in women of this age range can be taken as a sign of the impending "change".
Other causes of extra-long periods include:
• Having uterine fibroids
• Having polyps in the uterus
• Having endometriosis (a disease where the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the body)
• Having pelvic inflammatory disease
• Having a temporary hormonal imbalance, for instance, when changing hormonal contraception
• The copper IUD can also make you have heavy periods
• If there is a chance you could have been pregnant, the two-week period may have in fact been a miscarriage. Please see your doctor if you think you could be pregnant
• A condition called dysfunctional uterine bleeding (DUB). Doctors don’t know what causes DUB and may diagnose you with it if they cannot find a cause for your bleeding.
If there is no obvious physical cause, particularly if you are middle-aged, the doctor may like to wait and see as some cases are down to menopause or a temporary hormonal imbalance that corrects itself without treatment.
A pelvic examination and ultrasound scan of the uterus will be carried out to see if there are any abnormalities and a biopsy of uterine tissue may be taken.
If there are fibroids, polyps or endometrial lining present where it shouldn’t be -- this can be surgically removed which should help regulate your periods.
Other treatments include hormone replacement therapies, some brands of the pill that make period’s lighter, and anti-inflammatory medications (these reduce blood loss).
If you are using a copper-only IUD you could consider changing it to a hormonal one such as Mirena, as hormonal IUDs can reduce a period, whereas a copper-only one can make it heavier.
Nutritional supplements may also be needed to replace the nutrients lost by excessive bleeding.
If you have finished having children a more drastic measure would be surgery, either to remove the lining of the womb, which will stop the bleeding but render you infertile, or to remove the uterus altogether via hysterectomy.
Heavy Periods, Net Doctor. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/health_advice/facts/menstruationheavy.htm
Contraceptive Coils (IUD’s), Net Doctor. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/sex_relationships/facts/contraceptivecoil.htm
Long Periods, Net Doctor. Web. 24 May 2012. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/ate/womenshealth/207358.html
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/ She is the mother of five children and practices natural childbirth, delayed cord clamping, full term breastfeeding and organic food diet.
Reviewed May 24, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith