What happens during your period?
During your period you’ll bleed from your vagina for a few days. The bleeding will usually be the heaviest in the first two days.
How long your period will last depends on your menstrual cycle. Your period could last for 3-8 days, but it will usually last for about five days.
The amount of blood you lose during your period will depend on how heavy your periods are. It’s usually about 30-72 millilitres (5-12 teaspoons), although some women bleed more heavily than this.
If you have heavy periods, there are a number of treatment options available. If your bleeding isn’t too severe, you could try using a sanitary towel or extra cotton on your sanitary pad.
There are also a number of medications to help reduce bleeding. For example, the levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system (LNG-IUS) is a small plastic device that’s inserted into your womb and releases a hormone called progestogen. It prevents the womb lining growing so quickly.
Alternatively, tranexamic acid tablets work by helping the blood in your womb to clot.
Before your period
The changing levels of hormones in your body before your periods can cause physical and emotional changes. For example, your breasts might get bigger, you may feel bloated or you may cry more easily.
You may also have pain or discomfort in your lower abdomen or back, which may last for some or all of your period.
If you have pain or discomfort, there are a number of self-help techniques you can try, such as using painkilling medication (paracetamol or NSAIDs), gentle exercise, applying a heat pad or hot water bottle to your tummy and massaging your lower abdomen.
If paracetamol or NSAIDs aren’t providing enough pain relief, your GP may be able to prescribe a stronger painkiller, such as codeine, to take as well.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), also known as premenstrual tension (PMT), describes the physical, psychological and emotional symptoms that can occur in the days before a woman’s period. However, PMS doesn’t affect every woman who has periods.
There are many possible symptoms of PMS. Some of the most common physical symptoms are:
- fluid retention and feeling bloated
- tummy pain and discomfort
- changes to your skin and hair
- muscle and joint pain
- breast tenderness
- insomnia (problems sleeping)
- weight gain (up to 1kg)
Common psychological symptoms of PMS include:
- mood swings
- feeling upset or emotional
- feeling irritable or angry
- depressed mood
- crying and tearfulness
- difficulty concentrating
- confusion and forgetfulness
- decreased self-esteem
Symptoms such as fluid retention and feeling bloated and mood swings and irritability will usually improve when your period starts. They will disappear completely a few days after your period has finished.
Other symptoms, such as weight gain, will need to be addressed with diet and exercise.
Changes in your periods
Your periods can change – for example, they may last longer or get lighter. This doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a problem, but it does need to be investigated. You can go to see your gynaecologist or you can visit your nearest women’s clinic or family planning centre.
Bleeding between periods, after having sex or after the menopause needs to be checked by a doctor. It might be due to infection, abnormalities in the cervix (the neck of the womb) or, in rare cases, it could be cancer.
If you miss a period and you’ve had sex, you could be pregnant. See your doctor if you’re not pregnant and you’ve missed two or three periods.