For centuries, menstruation has been linked to stigma, shame and fear that hinders women from talking openly about periods. We are taught to view our periods as a fact of life, and as a result, do not consider things like painful cramps or excessively heavy bleeding to be anything outside of what is “expected” during that dreaded time of the month. While we’ve certainly made progress as a society (e.g. the period emoji, the tampon tax discussion, menstrual cups, etc.), there is still an education deficit around menstruation that makes it more difficult for women to truly advocate for their care.
A recent survey conducted by Hearst publications1 in partnership with our We Hate Heavy Periods campaign, surveyed nearly 900 women to find out what they know and how they communicate about their periods. The survey found that nearly three in four women talk to their girlfriends about their periods, but over half don’t voice troubling period symptoms like heavy bleeding or abnormal cycle length to their doctor. This lack of communication between patient and doctor can leave women in the dark about what is considered normal vs. abnormal when it comes to their period. So, we’re here to talk about it.
Normal vs. Abnormal Periods
Eighty-five percent of women surveyed agree that heavy periods are “just normal,” and 69 percent say that pain during their period is just something to be expected. While it would be challenging to pinpoint a precise reason for these misconceptions, it’s likely that a main contributor is that women aren’t encouraged to discuss their symptoms, making them more vulnerable to misinformation.
As a result, there are a lot of women dealing with things they think are normal, but aren’t. In that same survey, nearly 3 in 5 women reported that they experience at least one symptom of heavy periods that prevent them from living their best life, including:
- Restricted daily activities
- Doubling up on sanitary protection
- Soaking through one or more tampon within an hour
- Bleeding longer than a week
Not only are these symptoms considered “abnormal,” they could also be indicative of abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB), a treatable medical condition that affects 1 in 5 women.2
Since it’s 2019, medical innovations have resulted in more options for women facing uterine health problems like AUB, fibroids, infertility, etc. However, the survey found that nearly half of women incorrectly assume that hormonal therapies are the only way to lighten a heavy flow, meaning there’s some work to be done on the awareness front.
Treatment options for AUB can range from hormonal therapies, like oral contraceptives and IUDs (most common), to minimally invasive surgeries, to major procedures like hysterectomies.
Still, with all of these options – more than two-thirds of women surveyed noted that they were unaware of minimally invasive options for heavy periods. To empower women to advocate for their health, it’s imperative that we educate about all available options. For example, procedures like endometrial ablation for treatment of abnormal uterine bleeding and myomectomy for treatment of fibroids, have helped millions of women treat their symptoms with minimized pain and recovery time. It’s all about working with your doctor to find a solution that is right for YOU.
Knowing Your Options and Spreading the Word
The bottom line? Heavy or painful periods may be common, but that does not mean they’re normal. In order to mitigate the silence around menstruation that causes women to “just deal with” these problems, we need to speak up and encourage open and honest discussions – so women are informed and prepared to take action.
You can start by heading to our Heavy Periods fact page to learn more about AUB and find resources for women suffering from painfully heavy periods. One in 5 women suffer from AUB, so look around at the important women in your life, and encourage them to speak with a doctor if they experience any symptoms that prevent them from living life to the fullest!
- Hologic, Inc. Data on File; Custom Women’s Health Subscriber Study. January – February 2019. Survey of 884 women who subscribe to Women’s Health print publication.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heavy menstrual bleeding. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/blooddisorders/women/menorrhagia.html. Accessed July 05, 2017.