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Support for heavy or painful periods

Heavy or painful periods

Painful periods (known as dysmenorrhea) or heavy bleeding (also known as menorrhagia) can leave you tired and uncomfortable and affect your daily life including your work. Our guide offers help and support if you’re living with painful or heavy bleeding during your periods.

What are heavy periods?

According to the NHS website, you may have heavy periods if:

  • You need to change your sanitary pad or tampon regularly, for example every one to two hours
  • You need to use two types of sanitary product together, such as a tampon and a pad
  • You regularly bleed through to your clothes or bedding
  • Your periods last more than seven days
  • You regularly feel tired or out of breath
  • You avoid daily activities such as exercise
  • You find you have to take time off work during your period 

What causes heavy periods?

There are a variety of causes of heavy periods, including:

  • When you start your periods at puberty
  • After pregnancy
  • During the perimenopause

They can also be caused by conditions such as adenomyosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease, stress or depression – as well as some medications and treatments. 

How can heavy or painful periods affect you? 

Having heavy periods or painful period cramps can be both a physical and emotional drain. Many women find that the tiredness and discomfort associated with heavy bleeding can affect your daily activities, making you feel resentful or anxious. 

How can having a heavy period affect your work?

In addition to the physical symptoms, as some employees begin returning to the office after two years of working from home, women are experiencing increased stress and anxiety around coping with heavy periods in the workplace.

You might be worried about pain and bleeding through your clothes during a long meeting, and wear dark clothes in anticipation of blood stains, even in summer. 

You might run out of sanitary protection and feel unable to ask your employer whether you can pop to the shops to buy some more. 

What is the most common period pain relief? 

In most cases, period cramps or period back pain can be treated at home with ibuprofen. If ordinary painkillers don’t help, your GP may prescribe stronger medication. 

How to cope with heavy periods at work 

Be prepared 

Make sure that you’re prepared for your period, especially during menopause when bleeding may be less regular. Ensure that you have plenty of sanitary protection with you – in your handbag and your drawer if you have one.

Tampons and pads should be available in staff toilets, so please speak to your employer if they’re missing.

Take frequent breaks

Your employer should allow you to take frequent comfort breaks so that you can change your protection. If you do have a long meeting, your facilitator should ensure that toilet breaks are included in the agenda.

It’s important to keep active during your period; a short walk round the block will help with cramps and will make you feel less tired.

Eat well and stay hydrated

It goes without saying that if you suffer with heavy periods, you need to have plenty of iron in your diet. Iron is essential for producing red blood cells which carry oxygen around your body. If you’re not producing enough red blood cells to replace those that are lost when you bleed heavily, the amount of oxygen in your body is reduced and this can cause you to feel lightheaded, tired and short of breath - or develop anaemia.

Food with a high iron content include red meat, green, leafy vegetables, pulses (such as lentils) and cereals with added iron.

It’s also important to stay hydrated, so drink plenty of water during the day and avoid too many caffeinated drinks.

Don’t be afraid to ask your employer for help

Every employer knows that almost all female members of staff between the ages of 16 and 50 will experience their period at least once a month.

You might find it difficult to talk about this with colleagues and managers – even if they themselves are female - so it’s worth asking your Human Resources department whether your employer has a Menstruation policy. If they don’t, what measures do they have in place to support female employees’ physical and mental wellbeing during their period. This could include working from home, working flexibly around your period days or even menstrual leave.

Rowan Connell discusses heavy and painful periods

Consultant Gynaecologist, Rowan Connell, on heavy and painful treatments and the private gynaecology services available at Benenden Hospital.

Speak to our experts 

If heavy periods are affecting your home life or work, help is available. We offer a range of private gynaecology treatments, including consultation for menstrual bleeding disorders.

Contact our Private Patient team via Livechat, by completing our online enquiry form or by calling 01580 363158.

Published on 23 June 2022