Birth Control as Menorrhagia Treatment

Types and Brands to Consider for Heavy Periods

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Menorrhagia is the medical term for heavy menstrual bleeding. If left untreated, menorrhagia can lead to iron deficiency anemia. One commonly used option for menorrhagia treatment is birth control.

Birth control is a broad term for contraception, including a pill, skin patch, vaginal ring, intrauterine device (IUD), or shot. Birth control can help heavy periods by thinning the uterine lining and preventing ovulation.

It is estimated that about 20% of people who have periods experience heavy bleeding.

This article explains menorrhagia and how birth control can help manage heavy periods.

Birth control pills
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What Is Menorrhagia?

Menorrhagia refers to heavy periods or periods that last longer than usual. Since the cause determines the treatment, it's essential to talk to your healthcare provider about heavy periods.

Causes

During your menstrual cycle, the uterus sheds its lining (endometrium) if an egg is not fertilized. This shedding occurs in response to estrogen released from the ovaries.

How much and how long you bleed varies from person to person. However, very heavy periods are not normal.

Several conditions can cause heavy periods, including:

Symptoms

The obvious symptom of menorrhagia is heavy bleeding. But, what counts as "heavy bleeding?" Signs of heavy periods include:

  • Needing to change a pad or tampon every one to two hours for several hours in a row
  • Bleeding that lasts more than seven days
  • Needing to wear more than one pad at a time
  • Needing to get up in the night to change a pad or tampon
  • Clots that are as big or bigger than a quarter

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of heavy periods, see your doctor for an evaluation. They will be able to pinpoint the cause and treat it.

Recap

Menorrhagia is the medical term for heavy periods. Heavy periods are those that last longer than seven days or that soak through menstrual products more than every one or two hours for several hours in a row. Hormonal fluctuations, fibroids, cancer, and thyroid disease are some things that can cause heavy periods.

Birth Control for Heavy Periods

To diagnose menorrhagia, your doctor will perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. In addition, they may suggest further tests, including:

  • Blood tests: These can identify thyroid and blood disorders and determine if blood loss is leading to anemia.
  • Transvaginal ultrasound: This imaging test can identify polyps and fibroids.
  • Biopsy: Your doctor can take a small sample of uterus tissue to help identify any irregularities.
  • Hysteroscopy: During this test, your doctor inserts a thin tube through the vagina to look inside the uterus for polyps or fibroids.

All of these tests can be done in your doctor's office.

Treatments will depend on the cause of the bleeding. Hormonal contraceptives (like the pill) help to reduce the bleeding you experience during your period. Therefore, your healthcare provider may recommend hormonal contraception as part of heavy period treatment.

Birth control offers several benefits for treating heavy periods, including:

Evidence suggests that combined oral contraceptives are effective at reducing heavy menstrual bleeding. In a 2019 Cochrane review looking at previous studies, researchers found that combined oral hormonal contraceptives reduced menstrual bleeding to normal levels in 12% to 70% of people (compared to 3% of those taking a placebo).

The alternative heavy period treatment is a surgical procedure called endometrial ablation, which destroys the uterine lining. This procedure leads to sterilization (the inability to become pregnant in the future).

Recap

If you have heavy periods, your doctor will do a pelvic exam. They may also order further tests, such as bloodwork, imaging tests, and a biopsy. Hormonal birth control is one effective way to stop or reduce heavy periods.

Types of Birth Control

Birth control may be a promising treatment option for heavy periods, especially if you want to get pregnant in the future. That's because, unlike surgical options, hormonal birth control is reversible.

Prescription birth control methods that may provide help for heavy bleeding include:

  • Combined hormonal contraceptives: These birth control methods contain both progestin and synthetic estrogen. Combination birth control can lower heavy menstrual bleeding for a lot of people.
  • Combination birth control pills: You may be able to significantly reduce monthly blood loss by using combination birth control pills. Research has also shown that triphasic combination pills are exceptionally successful at reducing heavy menstrual bleeding. These have changing levels of estrogen and progestin to mimic the natural hormonal phases of your menstrual cycle more closely.
  • Extended cycle birth control pills: Continuous birth control pills (like Amethyst, Yaz, BeyazSeasonique, and Lo Loestrin Fe) reduce the number of periods you have. This makes them beneficial in the management of menorrhagia. It's also possible to skip your period using regular birth control pills, which can also provide relief.
  • Progestin-only contraceptives: These hormonal contraceptives are a good alternative if you can't use a method that has estrogen. Progestin-only birth control options can reduce the number of days you bleed during your monthly period. However, some of these methods may cause you not to have a period at all.
  • Mirena IUD: The Mirena IUD is also a progestin-only method. It is FDA-approved to treat heavy periods. For those with heavy periods, research shows that Mirena lowers blood loss by up to 90% and improves quality of life as much as endometrial ablation does, but with fewer serious side effects.

Compared to those who use progestin-only pills, people who use the Mirena IUD for heavy period treatment seem more satisfied and willing to continue with their treatment. For this reason, Mirena may be a more effective treatment option than birth control pills.

Summary

Hormonal birth control is one proven option for treating heavy periods. Research suggests that hormonal contraception effectively reduces blood loss and days that you bleed. Since birth control is reversible, it may be a good choice for treating heavy periods for people who wish to get pregnant in the future.

A Word From Verywell

Keep in mind that everyone may have different reactions to specific birth control methods. So even though hormonal birth control can be a valuable part of heavy period treatment, it is only one of several treatment options.

The reason most people use hormonal birth control is to prevent unintended pregnancy. But if you have heavy periods, talk to your healthcare provider about some of the possible non-contraceptive benefits of birth control.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take birth control to improve heavy periods?

    It may take up to three months before you notice reduced bleeding after starting birth control.

  • Which birth control brands work best for menorrhagia?

    Studies have found that combination birth control pills are effective at reducing heavy periods. In addition, the Mirena IUD is FDA-approved for treating heavy periods and may be an even more effective option than birth control pills.

  • What are the side effects of using birth control for heavy periods?

    Side effects from birth control treatment for heavy periods are the same as those for birth control for contraception and depend on which method you choose. Common side effects of hormonal birth control include acne, spotting between periods, breast tenderness, depression, headaches, cramps, and weight gain.

  • What can I try at home to stop heavy periods?

    At-home treatments for heavy periods include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and iron supplements. However, before trying OTC treatments, be sure to discuss them with your healthcare provider.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC
Dawn Stacey, PhD, LMHC, is a published author, college professor, and mental health consultant with over 15 years of counseling experience.