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Talking about heavy periods and treatments

With the launch of heavyperiodtalk.ca, Dr. Yolanda Kirkham, an obstetrician and gynecologist, discusses her role in the campaign and why it’s recommended that women educate themselves on their menstruation.

Dr. Kirkham is an OBGYN at the Women’s College Hospital and St Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto. Her role in the campaign is to do what she does on the job every day: educate, counsel, and treat women’s reproductive health concerns. “Through this campaign and website, women can quickly access factual information and peer-to-peer stories that encourage them to seek medical attention for a problem they may not have known was treatable,” she said.

She was a recent panelist at the Heavy Period Talk comedy show in Toronto, which she said was a great way to talk about a taboo topic in a fun and educational way. “The campaign also supports the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health and local charities. I hope that women will know they don’t have to live with what they think is their ‘normal,’ and that there are so many individualized options for heavy periods,” she said. “They don’t have to live with the fear of leaking, missing out on activities, or feeling miserable each month. Heavy periods don’t have to cramp your style.”

This quote really stuck with me. I thought about myself and how I enjoy running. At times, I felt afraid of leaking and I would be constantly thinking about it on the course instead of my pace.  I found Dr. Kirkham’s information helpful.

If you suffer from heavier periods than you may be familiar with its older term: menorrhagia. Dr. Kirkham explained that heavy periods can affect a woman’s quality of life. “They are periods that are heavy, require pad or tampon changes every one to two hours or through the night, have clots, and last a week.”

“Heavy periods affect 1 in 5 women of all ages. But even one is too much,” she continued. “These can be young women who have just started their periods, are midlife, or nearing menopause. There are various causes, including bleeding disorders, hormonal changes and anovulation (not releasing a monthly egg) in puberty/perimenopause/polycystic ovarian syndrome, medications, other medical conditions, and cervical or uterine cancer.” She added that women in their forties have the highest rates for bleeding and associated conditions that lead to the heavy bleeding, such as polyps, fibroids, pre- or uterine cancer, or anovulation.

“All of these causes are treatable.  And it is important to treat to prevent anemia (low blood levels) that can affect concentration, energy levels, and ability for the body to function at its best,” she said. “Management of heavy bleeding can also reduce the need for blood transfusions, which are sometimes needed in dire cases.”

If you’re dealing with a heavier period or need more information, then Dr. Kirkham believes heavyperiodtalk.ca is a good place to start. “We hope that by sharing stories of how heavy periods affect them, more women will be encouraged to open up that conversation with each other and with their health care professional,” she said. “Stories shared on heavyperiodtalk.ca will benefit the Canadian Foundation for Women’s Health, which is a charity administered by the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologist of Canada.”

She added that you should be turning to your family doctor or nurse practitioner if you need treatment or other individualized options that include medications, office procedures, or minimally invasive surgical procedures. “Something as simple as anti-inflammatories at the drug store can help,” she said. “But there are more sophisticated options such as medication to decrease flow (tranexamic acid) during heavy bleeding only, and all contraceptives also decrease flow (and pain).” She recommended hormone blockers, hormonal intrauterine device, or endometrial ablation procedures as well.

Periods were rarely spoken about years ago, and Dr. Kirkham believes this is one of the reasons why there wasn’t much education on the topic. “We are now in a society where people are more comfortable opening up about everything, and finding anonymous avenues to do so, such as online.  Women with very heavy or painful periods also tend to think that it’s normal for them and don’t realize their periods do not have to be dreadful,” she said. “I would encourage women to take time to look after themselves and seek attention for their periods if they are heavy or painful.  Blood is a precious commodity. Periods happen every month and over 40 years, that’s almost 500 periods! That’s something worth talking about!”

Visit your doctor or gynecologist if your periods are affecting your quality of life and keep the conversation going.