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Medications and Heavy Periods: Side Effects and Alternatives

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Has anyone ever woken up with crippling cramps only to find out there’s no paracetamol in the house? ARGHHHHH!Meds are our best buds when it comes to dealing with nasty, heavy periods. But here’s the thing, our commonly prescribed medications for heavy periods might be hiding not-so-good side-effects and risks up their sleeves.But we’re sure you’re not going to stop the meds just because it causes nausea, or something (duh, we got Aunt Flo’s monthly blessings to worry about.) But it’s worth getting clued up on what side effects these medications can cause so you can always be prepared for them.

Common Medications for Heavy Periods

  1. Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Saviours! Ibuprofen, anyone? NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and naproxen are often the first-line treatment for heavy periods. NSAIDs can reduce period blood loss by 20-50% by encouraging blood to clot and reducing prostaglandin levels. They are also great at fighting pain and can specifically target pain receptors in the uterus for better period pain management.Sounds like the ideal medicine for heavy periods, right? Hol’ up! Before you invest your life saving in NSAIDs, take notes of their side effects and risks.

Side effects of NSAIDs:

  • Prolonged use of NSAIDs can increase your risk of developing deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a condition where blood clots form in deep veins.
  • Stomach ulcers are another common side effect associated with prolonged use. These ulcers can lead to internal bleeding and result in anaemia.
  • Potential kidney and liver complications.
  • Occasional headaches and drowsiness.

2. Tranexamic acid

Tranexamic acid are tablets that work by reducing the breakdown of blood clots in your uterus. The best thing is they can reduce the heaviness of period bleeding by almost half, and they pull this off almost immediately – within two to three hours! It needs a prescription though.

Side effects of tranexamic acid:

  • Chills and fever
  • Nausea and diarrhoea
  • Severe muscle cramps and pain
  • Severe headaches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
These are just minor side effects that don’t typically necessitate medical attention. In rare cases, though, tranexamic acid can induce a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis, which can be life-threatening.Miraculously, long term use of tranexamic acid typically doesn’t cause any harmful side effects.

3. Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) Agonists

GnRH agonists are a more potent option that straight up “turns off” the ovaries, causing a temporary menopause. When taken continuously for 2 months, they stop the production of oestrogen, causing the menstrual cycle to go inactive. However, once the medication is stopped, your period will restart after 6-10 weeks.There are no long-term effects on fertility, but they are not recommended for more than 3-6 months due to their side effects.

Side effects of GnRH:

  • You are essentially entering a temporary state of menopause, so it only makes sense that you would experience all the risks and symptoms associated with menopause, such as hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, slowed metabolism, weakened bones, etc.

4. Combined oral contraceptive pill (COC)

Also known as ‘the pill,’ it combines the hormones oestrogen and progesterone and reduces the menstrual bleeding by almost 30% by thinning the uterine lining. It may also reduce painful cramps and other period symptoms and can even cause you to miss periods altogether depending on how you take the pill.

Side effects:

  • Bloating
  • Sore breasts
  • Nausea
  • Mood swings
  • Weight gain
  • Headaches

5. Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate shot

Depot medroxyprogesterone acetate is progesterone-like hormone called progestin and it’s a shot that’s given every 3 months. It’s a form of contraception and the hormones in the shot can ease painful periods and make them lighter.

Side effects:

  • Continued spotting in the first few months.
  • Weight gain
  • Depression and nervousness
  • Excessive growth of facial and body hair.

Alternative Approaches to Managing Heavy Periods

Now that you've had a taste of the dark side of medications, let's explore some alternative approaches to taming the period beast:

1. Dietary changes

Believe it or not, diet too plays a significant role in your menstrual health. Generally, eat healthy. Additionally, load up on iron-rich foods like spinach and lentils to combat iron loss during heavy periods. Avoid caffeine and alcohol, which can worsen bloating and cramps.

2. Exercise

Yes, lace up, we are really asking you to exercise to manage heavy menstrual periods. Engaging in regular exercise can not only reduce the severity of your period but also boost your mood. Just remember, it's not a race – no need to sprint away from your period, a brisk walk will do.

3. Herbal remedies

Some herbs like ginger and cinnamon can help ease menstrual pain and reduce heavy bleeding. Brew yourself a nice cup of herbal tea and cosy up with a hot water bottle – it's a spa day for your uterus.However, their efficacy varies among individuals, and more research is needed to establish their effectiveness fully.

4. Stress reduction

Stress can worsen heavy periods, so stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises may be beneficial. These practices can help relax the body and promote hormonal balance.In the battle against heavy periods, medications can be your trusty bros, but they come with their quirks. Before popping another ibuprofen, consider alternative approaches that are gentler on your body and might just do the trick. If you are concerned in any way about your periods, dial up your ob-gyn. See you in another blog!


What causes menorrhagia?

Menorrhagia, or abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding, can be caused by various factors. Common menorrhagia causes include hormonal imbalances, structural issues in the uterus (such as fibroids or polyps), blood disorders (such as von Willebrand disease), and certain medications or medical treatments. Identifying the specific heavy periods cause is essential for appropriate management and treatment. If you experience menorrhagia, consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation and guidance on the best course of action.

Can drinking water cause heavy periods?

No, drinking water does not cause heavy periods. In fact, staying well-hydrated is essential for overall health and can help regulate bodily functions, including your menstrual cycle.

How can I stop heavy periods naturally?

To naturally manage heavy periods, consider making dietary changes such as incorporating iron-rich foods to combat anaemia, trying herbal remedies like ginger or cranberries, practicing stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation, adopting a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and adequate sleep, and using heat therapy for menstrual cramp relief.

Can iron tablets stop heavy periods?

Iron tablets cannot directly stop heavy periods, but they are often prescribed to address iron deficiency anaemia that may result from heavy bleeding. Heavy menstrual bleeding can lead to anaemia due to the loss of iron-rich blood. Iron supplements can help replenish the body's iron stores and alleviate anaemia symptoms such as fatigue and weakness.

How often can I take medicines to control period flow?

The frequency of taking medicines to control period flow depends on the specific medication prescribed by your healthcare provider.

How can I determine which treatment option is best for me?

To determine the best treatment option for heavy periods, discuss your specific symptoms, medical history, and any concerns you may have regarding heavy periods during your appointment with your ob-gyn. They may recommend diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause of your heavy bleeding. Once the cause is determined, you'll review available treatment options together, considering factors like your desire for future fertility, tolerance for side effects, and long-term goals.

Can stress cause heavy periods?

Yes, stress is one of the common causes of heavy menstrual bleeding and menstrual irregularities in women. Stress disrupts hormone balance, leading to irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding. Chronic stress may delay ovulation, increase inflammation, and affect blood flow, resulting in heavier periods. However, other medical conditions can also cause heavy periods, so it's crucial to consult a healthcare provider for proper evaluation and treatment if needed.


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