Extended Period: What You Need to Know

Feeling like your period is dragging on forever can be frustrating, especially if you’re dealing with annoying premenstrual symptoms like cramps, bloating, headaches, or even migraines that are related to your period. Plus, the inconvenience of having to take more bathroom breaks than usual can really add up. If your period is lasting longer than a week or you’re going through menstrual products at a rapid pace, you may start to wonder if something isn’t quite right with your cycle. Not to mention the strain on your wallet due to the cost of these products and the continued presence of the “tampon tax.”

In the past, a period that lasted longer than seven days or was particularly heavy was referred to as menorrhagia. However, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics has recommended using the term “abnormal uterine bleeding” or “heavy menstrual bleeding” to avoid confusion and to specifically identify the cause of prolonged or excessive menstruation.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Kara McElligott Park, MD, MPH, explains that uterine bleeding related to your period can vary in frequency, duration, regularity, and volume. Any changes in these factors can be considered abnormal for you. If you’re experiencing lengthy period bleeding or heavy menstrual bleeding, it’s considered abnormal from a medical standpoint. Dr. Park advises that any changes in your period that involve more bleeding or bleeding that lasts longer than usual for you should be investigated.

It’s not uncommon to dread having a marathon-length period, but you’re not alone. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that 10 million people in the U.S. experience heavy menstrual bleeding per year. Additionally, it’s important to note that normal menstrual cycles can range from 21 to 35 days, and some people bleed for anywhere from three to eight days.

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Dr. Gunvor Ekman Ordeberg, MD, explains that the total amount of bleeding over the course of your menstrual cycle is what determines whether it’s normal or abnormal. However, she emphasizes that if you’re experiencing heavy bleeding for longer than seven days, it’s likely to have an impact on your daily life and is worth investigating.

There are several common causes for periods that last longer than a week. These can include conditions like uterine fibroids, a copper IUD, reproductive-health changes such as pregnancy loss or childbirth, and hormonal imbalances such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or stress-related fluctuations.

Dr. Park and Dr. Ordeberg recommend seeking care if you’re regularly experiencing heavy bleeding for longer periods, consistently bleeding through pads or tampons frequently, waking up to change menstrual products during the night, passing large blood clots, or experiencing particularly painful periods or fatigue during your cycle.

They emphasize that while these symptoms don’t necessarily mean there’s something seriously wrong with your cycle, they could point to an underlying health concern that can be resolved with treatment from a doctor. If in-person appointments are unavailable, telehealth is recommended to receive a preliminary assessment.

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