Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Struggling with heavy periods? You need to read this... #WearWhiteAgain

I was going to start this blog post by stating that if you are my Father-in-law, ‘look away now!’....and then I realised - THIS is exactly the problem we are trying to solve here. The taboo around discussing women’s health issues openly. The feeling that there are only certain people within our inner circle we can openly talk to (and even then in hushed tones) so, I did the complete opposite. Never one to shy away from the gory details, I went and spoke to him first, in person, and told him all about this campaign for Wear White Again – because I am a part of the more than 1 in 5 women who suffer from heavy periods… 

 

There are lots of things in this post that can help you, but first, let me tell you a bit about my story...it’s been a long old road, and I implore you to please read on - ESPECIALLY if you are feeling uncomfortable...



I started my periods relatively early compared to most. I was 10 years old, and from that moment onwards, every single month I had 7-12 days of hell. My periods were heavy. They were painful. They made me sick. They kept me awake at night. They had me passing out in school cubicles and frantically trying to wash my underwear in the bathroom sink before anyone saw. I had headaches, I felt exhausted...and I missed my 11th birthday treat at Center Parks because of them. I hid sanitary towels or tampons up my sleeve when I shuffled off to a public toilet...and I had NO idea that 4 out of 5 women weren’t going through the same experience as me each month........and most importantly, 5 out of 5 don’t necessarily have to either - because there are things that will help.


  

My 'heavy period' treatment journey:





It wasn’t until I went to university (yes, that’s right, EIGHT years after I started my periods) that I started to really become aware that not everyone was like me. I mean, I had asked my mum at some point in the previous 8 years if I could see a doctor - usually on the really painful days when I was struggling to cope - but she told me that the only option was to go on the pill and that this wasn’t an acceptable option. Well, after a 27-hour flight to New Zealand in the Easter break of my 1st year, where the 'time of the month' decided it was definitely it’s time, I vowed it was also now time to seek help. Upon my return to the UK I went straight to the GP surgery to discuss my treatment options....



Combined contraceptive pill:


I explained to the GP that I was suffering from heavy, painful and irregular periods. The GP gave me a prescription for a combined contraceptive pill  explaining it would solve the problem and with no other discussion, sent me on my way.



Did it help treat my heavy and painful periods?


Yes, it did. In the sense I was now on the same level as everyone else. My periods were normal, less painful and completely regular as you have them during the 7-day break after each pack of pills. Life was suddenly easier and I started to take it all for granted - until one day I suffered with a hemiplegic migraine which left me unable to EVER take the combined pill again, or any other contraceptive with Oestrogen in due to the risk of a full on stroke. And so, my next treatment option came about....



The progesterone only pill - mini pill:


I was told that for lots of people who suffer with heavy periods this pill was actually a little miracle worker because, for many, this stops their periods altogether. Unfortunately, I wasn’t so lucky and this made my periods very irregular (I had no idea when they would appear) and they lasted for a long time. I spent more time within the next 5 years on my period than I did off. Eventually I decided to come off the pill altogether and see what happened - maybe things had settled down, right? Wrong. The pain was worse than ever, and my periods were so heavy...except now I was a Reception Class Teacher with no break until lunchtime, it was really affecting my life. Back to the GP I went for a new treatment option...






An ultrasound to check for polyps, cysts, fibroids or endometriosis:



Sometimes, heavy or irregular bleeding can be due to a condition called endometriosis,cysts, fibroids or polyps within the womb or ovaries. I went to the hospital for an external and internal (don’t worry it’s not painful) ultrasound. Nothing was visible on the scan, this doesn’t always mean that nothing is there, but the inconclusive results meant that I had to go back to the GP for a new treatment option.


NB: Had the scan shown anything, there are procedures available to remove cells, tissue or growths which may be making heavy periods worse. More info can be found on this 
page explaining all about fibroid and polyp removal.


Intrauterine system (IUD) - Mirena coil:


The GP gave me the option of the Mirena coil which contains a small amount of progesterone (as opposed to the copper coil which is hormone free but can make periods heavier!) which is released steadily and lasts for 5 years. She explained that normally this isn't always offered to someone who hadn’t been pregnant before. I decided against the Mirena coil in the end as I knew that we were planning on trying for a baby in a year or so and I also wanted to be hormone free.



NSAIDs:


This medication is supposed to be taken a day or two before your period starts and then for the duration of the monthly bleed to help with the pain and also the length and heaviness of the period. It really helped me to carry on with normal life without being so affected by my periods as it numbed the pain enough to stop me passing out and being sick. It also meant I could actually sleep at night again when I was on my period. I found this treatment option really helpful.






Pregnancy:



Obviously, this is usually a sure-fire way to say goodbye to heavy periods for a few months and falling pregnant with my first meant that I had 9 months of no periods. The years and years of severe period pains meant that I had no idea when I was in early labour because it still wasn’t as bad as a bad period for me (not the case with established labour though girls, that’s unlike anything you’ll ever experience - especially if you end up drug free like I did). Obviously, pregnancy isn’t a long-term solution, HOWEVER, after being pregnant, the severe period pains I suffered from for over 20 years were no more! I have no idea why. However, unfortunately, like many women, I found that my periods after pregnancy and labour were A LOT heavier than before.


The increased blood loss means that every month I am struggling to keep my iron levels in check, and so symptoms such as tiredness, lack of energy, breathlessness and dizziness start to appear too....


Tranexamic acid:


I went back to the GP to find out what my other options were and was offered something called tranexamic acid. Taken for the duration of the period, it can stop the bleeding being so heavy and therefore shorten the duration. Unfortunately it is not safe to take whilst breastfeeding so this isn’t something I have been able to try.




Other treatment options available for heavy periods:


  • Hormonal therapy (i.e.intrauterine system IUS)
  • Non-hormonal therapy (i.e. tranexamic acid)
  • Endometrial ablation
  • Uterine artery embolisation (UAE)
  • Myomectomy
  • Hysterectomy


You can read more about these treatment options and the ones mentioned above in more detail on the Wear White Again Treating heavy periods page here.



Managing and Talking about Heavy Periods whilst seeking suitable treatment:


Obviously, not all treatment options are suitable for everyone. It is really important to be able to speak to your GP openly and honestly about your periods and this advice for your GP visit  is a great starting point.

If you are a parent, or friend, wishing to open the channels of communication with another female about their periods, then this guide for talking about heavy periods is available to download, or print off if you find this easier.

In the meantime, here are a few options I have explored or even tried myself in an attempt to manage the effects of heavy and painful periods:

  • Many women find that a menstrual cup is much better at containing a heavy flow for a longer period of time. There are many different shapes and sizes available and this comes with the added benefit of being reusable and environmentally friendly.
  • Period pants are another option which are becoming more popular. They absorb the blood and/or just the leaks depending on the brand and the material, adding an extra layer of protection. Again, these are reusable.
  • Take an iron supplement - it is worth getting your iron levels checked by your GP anyway if you are struggling with heavy periods as they will be able to prescribe medication for this. Even if your levels are acceptable, you may still feel the effects of a heavy period in the same way. Health food stores and supermarkets have iron tonics and supplements to help.

Have you tried any of the treatment options mentioned above? 
Have you struggled with some of the issues I have?
I'd love to hear more about your story - let’s keep the conversation going, raise awareness about this very common issue, and help more women to Wear White Again!

 


Love Sarah x

Disclosure - I was compensated for my time in writing and promoting this post. All words are my own and experiences mentioned are honest and true to the best of my memory. 



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3 comments:

  1. Periods really do suck and I think there are alot of girls that just get on with it when there are options available to make it easier. I was lucky in that I didn't start my periods until I was 16 but my ten year old is likely to start them soon I think which apparently is the norm now! I moved to the coil recently, not because of heavy periods but because I'd been on the pill half my life and kept bleeding twice a month. I still get a slight bleed but much less which is alot easier! Well done for talking so candidly about it as it's a taboo that needs breaking! x

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  2. Great post! Your experience sounded really tough and it's great to read how you've handled it. I've got hormonal acne and I get really bad anxiety that's in line with my hormones, but my period itself isn't too bad. To be honest I'm counting down the day until menopause! I wish there was more help, support and awareness out there so thank you for posting this x

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  3. Goodness me, you really have been through it. I've always been super lucky with my periods but I'm well aware many are not. This is such a great informative post and one that is so important to highlight.

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