Billions of people menstruate, and always historically have (obviously). However sheer numbers don’t remove the stigma attached to the monthly bleed, nor do they ensure all people are informed of the health complications when menstruation goes awry.
Most menstruators have the same questions, fears and concerns, and I hope to answer a few of them here.
Please remember I am not a medical professional and if you have serious concerns please take them to somebody qualified.
Another important note is that living in the UK I currently receive free healthcare, so if you live in the US especially please take your personal finances and insurance policies into account (hopefully one day healthcare will be a human right not a luxury)…
1. How Much Is Too Much?
Heavy bleeding (menorrhagia) is a relatively common problem. A period is considered heavy by the British NHS if it exceeds 60ml.
Signs that you may be experiencing overly heavy periods is regular bleeding through tampons, quickly soaking pads, and staining bedsheets and clothing.
Additionally, you may feel tired due to iron deficiency anaemia from heavy periods – this can be combatted by increasing iron in your diet (from red meats, beans and leafy greens) or taking dietary supplements which can be prescribed by a doctor.
Furthermore, there are pills which can help with heavy or long periods. The contraceptive pill can help regulate your period, and additional pills can help reduce the flow.
2. How Long Is Too Long?
Typically menstruation lasts for 3-5 days. Some people whose cycles may not yet be regular may have the occasional period lasting longer. However having a period which is regularly longer than 7 days may cause drops in energy due to iron deficiency, or may just cause discomfort or stress to an individual.
If menstruation is regularly long or occasionally exceptionally long, especially to the extent that it interferes with your life in any way, it is useful to speak to a doctor.
Irregular periods are also normal, and the typical variation for a cycle is around 5 days. Cycles (the entire phase of the cycle including menstruation) can vary in length for a number of reasons – changes in diet and exercise, stress, birth control – which can be completely harmless.
However, if your cycle has been irregular for a number of years, or is exceptionally light, heavy, or painful it might be helpful to see a doctor.
Doctors are likely to prescribe the contraceptive pill to regulate your periods, but you should feel no pressure to take what they suggest and should be open about your preferred options if you’d like something different.
3. Is My Method Right?
It is rarely talked about, but there are different of ways to remain comfortable when on your period in addition to pads and tampons (which only have a very small chance of Toxic Shock Syndrome, which can be avoided by changing tampon or menstrual cup at least once every eight hours with clean hands) .
If you’re keen to save money longterm or reduce waste, a menstrual cup or absorbent underwear are the most cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions.
A menstrual cup is a small plastic cup with a little stem which you put inside your vagina and collects blood during your period. It can be left in for at least 8 hours if needed, so is useful for using while asleep to reduce the danger of stained bedsheets.
It requires washing after removal, a little care with re-insertion, but can be very useful! It often comes with a handy booklet to address your concerns.
Absorbent underwear is also a good method, but is most useful for those with lighter flows. Though a little pricey, they can help you feel more comfortable.
The most important consideration is your own comfort, don’t just opt for what you have been told is best.
Do a little research and consideration and hopefully you can find the menstrual product right for you!
4. Is My PMS Normal?
It isn’t very commonly known, but PMS is not actually supposed to interfere too badly with your daily life. If you feel overly depressed, anxious, irritable and have low self esteem before your period, you may be suffering from Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD) rather than regular PMS (also mentioned on the source page).
If you experience intense, debilitating psychological symptoms in the two weeks leading up to your period, speak to a doctor or psychiatrist.
5. If I Need To, How Do I Speak To A Doctor?
It is always nerve-wracking to have to go to the doctor about something, especially something which is societally perceived as personal and intimate.
If you are nervous about talking to your doctor, remember that they are professionals and are trained to deal with every medical issue under the sun without judgement.
If you still feel anxious, perhaps try explaining your problem to a close friend or partner and see if that gives you more confidence in talking about it. You could always take them with you to your appointment!
Try to put yourself first and remember that talking to a doctor could save yourself from future pain and discomfort – physically or emotionally.