How Long Does a Period Last? And Other Questions, Answered.
A long period is usually defined as one that lasts more than seven days. Typically, menstruation occurs for three to seven days. The medical term for a longer period that includes heavier bleeding is menorrhagia. This is a condition that may be diagnosed by a doctor, so if you're wondering how long does a normal period last, it's best to speak with your gynecologist.
What does a long period mean? On a day-to-day basis, it may mean disrupting your life and your sleep cycles. It may also indicate an underlying condition such as:
- Ovarian irregularities
- Uterine issues
- Hormonal imbalances
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
A longer period, especially if routine, may also contribute to an iron deficiency. We're not doctors so please see your medical professional if you're worried about heavy periods or longer bleeding.
Menorrhagia, the medical term for long periods, affects one in five women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). It is defined as women who experience long periods not as a result of a disease or underlying condition.
Concerned about the length of your period and want to know what may be causing it and what might help normalize your cycle? Keep reading.
Disclaimer: This article was written for informational purposes and is not medical advice. If you are concerned about your period, please speak with your gynecologist.
How Long Does a Period Last?
A typical period lasts between 3 and 7 days, according to research. Women with regular cycles typically menstruate between 3 and 5 days.
Keep in mind that we are all different genetically and environmentally-speaking. In other words, what is normal for your friend may not be normal for you and visa versa. It is common for someone's cycle length to vary slightly from what is considered a typical period. A certain degree of variation between cycles is also normal, especially if the circumstances of someone's life have changed. Started a new workout regimen? Going through a stressful transition? These may affect menstruation.
Always remember that you know your body best. Determining what is normal (and what isn't) is up to you and your doctor.
Long Periods & the Menstrual Cycle
Menstruation, whether in the form of a normal or long period, is only part of a woman's menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle is the process during which a woman's ovaries produce eggs, release those eggs, and, in the absence of fertilization (i.e. pregnancy), results in a period approximately once a month. In other words, there's a lot going on within the body before, after and during menstruation, much of which varies depending on the cycle and the person.
The 4 Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
To answer, how long does a period last, it's crucial to understand the menstrual cycle's four phases. In simple terms, a menstrual cycle is a natural cycle that occurs every month that gives a woman the possibility of pregnancy. It can be divided into the following phases:
- Follicular Phase
- Luteal Phase
Menstruation, or Period
This is the phase of the menstrual cycle with which women are most familiar. Technically, what happens during this phase is the following: The body releases the endometrium, otherwise known as the uterus' thickened lining. The menstrual fluid then passes through the vagina, resulting in a period. Keep in mind that the body releases a lot more than blood during menstruation: Menstrual fluid also contains mucus and cells from the endometrium.
The healthiest and most comfortable way to deal with long periods is with a menstrual cup because they offer up to 12 hours of period protection AND can be made from medical-grade silicone, like the Casco Cup.
The follicular phase may include menstruation and end when ovulation begins. As you could guess from its name, the follicular phase involves the production of 5-20 follicles within the ovaries. Each follicle houses an egg, though not all these eggs survive. According to some research, only one follicle and egg survive.
The ovary releases the mature egg, usually around the middle of the menstrual cycle. The egg travels through the fallopian tubes in the direction of the uterus. Usually, an egg will only live 24 hours. If it isn't fertilized by sperm, it will die, and result in your period.
The uterine walls thicken in preparation for a fertilized egg. If the egg is fertilized, it will stick to the side of the uterus, which results in more hormones that continue to thicken the uterine lining. Fun fact: These are the hormones that a pregnancy test detects. Their production indicates that an egg has been fertilized and implanted successfully. If an egg does not implant, the uterine lining will shed, resulting in a period.
Long Periods and the Menstrual Cycle
How does the menstrual cycle determine how long a period lasts? Definitive answers are best left to doctors. However, before determining what constitutes a "long period," is important that she develop a baseline understanding of what is normal menstruation for her. That means paying attention to:
- How long does your period last? Count the number of days every month to get a rough estimate.
- When PMS symptoms occur and how soon before a period? What symptoms are normal versus severe?
- How heavy is the menstrual flow?
Keeping track of these may help someone determine if a period is long and whether they're experiencing unusual symptoms. If you believe that either is the case, speak with a gynecologist.
What Causes a Long Period? 11 Possibilities
There are many conditions that may contribute to a long period. These may include (but are not limited to) the following developments:
- Changes in medication, especially birth control
- Stress or emotional changes
- Hormonal fluctuations
- A bleeding condition
- Thyroid condition
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Uterine fibroids
Beyond that, extreme exercise and weight loss, breastfeeding, Premature ovarian failure and Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may be linked to shorter or missed menstruation rather than long periods. If you believe you're at risk for any of these conditions, please speak with your medical professional.
Additionally, it is extremely important that someone who may be suffering from heavy periods (changing a pad or tampon very frequently) or discharging a large amount of blood/blood clots see their doctor. Fever and lightheadedness are also symptoms that may accompany abnormally heavy or long periods.
Is There Any Way to Regular Long Periods?
The best way to deal with heavy bleeding is to see a doctor. Not only may a medical professional have a much deeper understanding of the female body, but they also may have the ability to better understand long periods with tests, biopsies, family history, as well as questions answered by the patient.
A doctor may also be able to treat a long period's underlying cause, if it is medical. If it is menorrhagia, meaning that bleeding is not associated with a separate condition, a doctor may recommend prescribing hormonal birth control, such as an IUD, birth control pill, vaginal ring, or shot.
In addition to birth control, a doctor may suggest assuaging symptoms such as cramps or discomfort with an over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen or Advil.
Related Reading: "What Is Menarche?"
How Long Is a Period And What Is Normal?
These are great questions to ask -- especially if you're speaking with your gynecologist. There are a number of reasons for a long period, including an underlying medical condition or a menstruation-related condition. The best way to understand what's normal and what isn't is to have a record of past periods: Is this a long period or normal for me? The best course of action is to take that knowledge with you to the doctor's office.