It’s time to talk periods
Period blood and period cramps are just a few of the joys women may experience each month, but how do you know if your cramps and period blood are normal? It can be tricky to say, because all of our bodies are different and we can all experience pain differently. But we’ve gathered some information that’s useful to know – but don’t let any of this panic you, after all you know your body better than anyone.
Firstly, let’s talk menstrual blood
So, why is menstrual blood important? Paying attention to the colour and consistency of your menstrual blood is important, as it can tell you a lot about your cycle. And if anything changes from period to period, you’ll be able to tell pretty quickly because you’ll already be an expert on what normal menstrual blood is to you.
How much blood women lose on their period can vary – it’s usually about two to three tablespoons each cycle (which is less than it looks), but for some women it can be more.
What are the different colours of period blood?
Throughout your period, changes in the colour of your menstrual blood is completely normal, so let’s take a look at the different colours and what they’re trying to tell you.
Your menstrual blood will usually be bright red at the beginning of your period because this is your newest, and usually heaviest, blood.
Ever woken up in the morning, checked your pad and your blood is dark red? This is because morning blood is usually not as fresh as it’s been in your body overnight. It’s not just in the morning this can be seen though; if your period is late the blood could appear as dark rather than bright red.
Dark brown or black
This may look a little scary, but don’t panic it’s usually nothing to worry about. If it’s brown, it’s just old blood that’s passing through. If it’s black, that means the period blood has taken more time to leave your uterus and gets oxidized in the process, which may make the blood darker in colour.
If you’ve noticed that you’re getting black or brown discharge, or bleeding, and you’re not on your period, this may be a sign of something else so book an appointment with your GP to get it checked out.
Pink menstrual blood usually appears at the end of your period or on lighter days. If you spot blood this is normally the colour pink.
This colour is a little more uncommon and is usually nothing to panic about. You’ll just need to check the consistency of it, which should be slippery. If it’s tacky or there’s a bad smell (worse than usual period blood smell) it could indicate an infection or STD, so make sure you visit your GP who will take a look for you. Hormonal changes and some health conditions can also affect the colour and texture of your period blood, but you know your body best, so if you have any concerns make sure you speak to your GP.
What about clots in menstrual blood?
Usually if your period is heavy then it’s normal to see blood clots about the size of a 10p coin, especially towards the end of your period. Excess clotting, think blood clots that are bigger than a 10p coin and are frequent, should be checked out by your GP.
How much bleeding is heavy bleeding?
Because every person with periods can bleed different amounts it can be hard to judge, but heavy menstrual bleeding is usually defined as losing 80ml (which is about five tablespoons) or more each period, having periods that last longer than seven days or both these things.
Some other ways to tell if your periods are heavy are:
• You’re changing your sanitary products every hour or two
• You see blood clots that are around the size of a 10p coin
• You’re bleeding through your clothes or bedding – sometimes at night it can be normal to bleed onto your bedding at the start of your period and doesn’t necessarily mean you have a heavy flow, but if it’s happening every night of your period that would class as heavy
• You need to use two types of sanitary products together
If you’re worried about the amount of menstrual blood you’re passing, the NHS has a useful heavy periods self-assessment that offers great advice and may help give you a rating for how heavy your flow is.
What do I need to know about period cramps?
Menstrual cramping, often known as period pain or cramps, is a pretty common PMS (premenstrual syndrome) symptom to experience during your period. But telling the difference between what’s a 'normal' period pain (because who knows what normal really means) and what’s probably not is important to know.
If you usually dread your period because of PMS (premenstrual syndrome which is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period) we’ve put together seven easy ways to help ease PMS just for you.
What does period pain feel like?
Each person can experience period pain in different ways, such as cramps in your stomach, pain in your back and thighs or even sometimes dull, constant or intense spasms. Other PMS symptoms that don’t fall under the kind of period pain we’re talking about can be found in how to ease PMS.
What causes period pain?
During your period, the muscular wall of the womb contracts to squeeze the blood vessels that line your womb and actually cut off the blood and oxygen supply (but only temporarily), which causes period pain. Some women, however, can experience mild or no pain when this happens, or experience it more as contractions worsen to encourage your womb lining to shed.
It’s not known why some women experience period pain more than others, but if you’re getting period pain so intense that it stops you from doing your daily routine each month, like going to work or school, this can sometimes be caused by some of these conditions:
This is where cells that should line your womb actually start to grow elsewhere like your ovaries or fallopian tubes, causing really intense pain when blood is shed.
These are non-cancerous tumours that can grow in the womb, causing heavy periods.
Pelvic inflammatory disease
This causes your womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries to become infected with bacteria and inflamed.
This is when tissue that normally lines the womb starts to grow in the muscular womb wall instead, making periods really painful.
If you notice a change in your normal period pattern, it could be linked to one of the above conditions – a couple of other symptoms to watch out for are bleeding in between periods and your periods being irregular. So make sure to book an appointment with your GP as soon as possible.
So, how do I manage period pain?
Usually taking ibuprofen and paracetamol can help soothe period pain, you can also try taking a warm bath or shower and using a hot water bottle (wrapped in a towel). There are also specific products you can take that help to target period pain. If none of these things work each month, you can have a conversation with your pharmacist to see if there’s any over-the-counter medication suitable or book an appointment with your GP.
If you’re worried about anything going on with your periods, make an appointment with your GP and make sure to voice your concerns. If you feel like you’re not heard, keep pushing until you are because taking control of your health is such an empowering move and will only help you in the long run.