If you have long periods – you’re bleeding for longer than one week – your period is not normal and this may be a sign that something is going on with you. You may have a reproductive problem, fibroids, cysts, or even something more serious. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, if you’re in your 40s and entering perimenopause, or if you’re a teenager who just started having periods, then having a long menstrual period may be normal.
If you have prolonged, heavy periods, you are said to have an irregular menstrual period.
How Long is the Average Period?
The average period can last anywhere between three to five days, but it’s normal for a length of a period to range between two and seven days.
If you’re not a teenager or in perimenopause, a long period that lasts longer than 7 days (one week) is a sign of an abnormal period, and you’ll get to contact your doctor to figure out what’s going on.
When Are Long Periods Normal?
Long periods, or menstrual periods that last longer than seven days, are common and normal in two groups of women – teenage girls and women who are in menopause transition (perimenopause).
If you’re a teenager, long and irregular periods are normal. In the first year or two after you start having periods, your cycle can be very irregular – starting and stopping, and then starting once again. Some teen girls have one period, and don’t have another one for the next six months. This is common. It’s also normal for your period length to change. Teen girls can bleed for ten days, and this is normal for them.
Long menstrual periods (and irregular periods) are normal and common in women who are in perimenopause. In the years before menopause hits, your ovaries are producing less estrogen; as a result, you may not ovulate on a regular basis. You may experience irregular periods – including skipped periods, more than one menstrual period each month, and changing menstrual cycle lengths. It is also very common for perimenopausal women to have prolonged periods. In your 40s, you may have a period that lasts as long as three weeks.
Typically, when you have a drastically long period, the flow is lighter than normal. But if it’s ever extremely heavy, so heavy that you’re getting nauseous or dizzy, it’s a good idea to contact your healthcare provider.
What Causes Long Periods?
If you’re not a teenager and you’re not in perimenopause, long periods are not normal. Prolonged menstrual bleeding – called menorrhagia – can be accompanied with heavy bleeding, including passing large clots in your menstrual flow, and anemia from your blood loss.
You should contact your doctor or gynecologist if you are experiencing long, heavy periods that last longer than seven days. There are several medical conditions that can cause prolonged, heavy bleeding. They include:
- Dysfunctional Uterine Bleeding (DUB) – A common cause of long periods is a condition called dysfunctional uterine bleeding. DUB is caused by a hormonal imbalance. This period problem can cause you to spot between periods, have heavy menstrual bleeding, and have long periods. It’s usually treated with birth control pills or hormones.
- Fibroids – These non-cancerous muscular growths on the uterus can cause you to have heavy menstrual bleeding and long periods. Submucosal fibroids, which are found in your uterine cavity, cause prolonged, heavy periods. Fibroids are very common in women of reproductive age, since estrogen fuels their growth. Up to 80 percent of all women will develop fibroids by the time they hit menopause.
- Uterine Polyps – If you have polyps on the lining of your uterus, you can experience long periods. Uterine polyps are benign (non-cancerous) growths that are attached to the inner wall of your womb (uterus). Polyps can cause you to have irregular menstrual bleeding, excessive heavy periods and long periods.
- Ovarian Cysts – These liquid-filled sacs that form on or inside your ovary can cause you to experience prolonged menstrual periods. The type of ovarian cyst that causes period problems is called a corpus luteum cyst, which are the cysts that develop from the ruptured follicle that your egg is released from. Although most ovarian cysts don’t cause any symptoms, menstrual irregularities can be a symptom of them.
- Intrauterine Device (IUD) – Having prolonged periods, as well as excessive menstrual bleeding, is a common side effect of using an intrauterine device (IUD) for birth control. IUDs are one of the most effective and popular methods of preventing pregnancy, but the side effects can be pretty severe. Although many women don’t have trouble using IUDs, they can cause you to have heavy bleeding and long periods for the first months after insertion.
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) – Most cases of pelvic inflammatory disease are spread by bacteria that cause the STDs chlamydia and gonorrhea. PID is a serious infection that can affect your reproductive organs, including your vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Extremely long periods is one of the symptoms of PID.
- Endometriosis – This reproductive health problem occurs when the tissue that lines your uterus grows in other parts of your body. Endometriosis can cause heavy menstrual bleeding and long periods in some women.
- Cancer – In rare cases, having prolonged periods may be a sign that you have cancer in your reproductive organs, including uterine cancer, cervical cancer, or ovarian cancer. If you have long periods and there is a family history of any of these cancers, you should contact your doctor.
- Certain Medications – Sometimes, some medicines can cause you to have prolonged menstrual bleeding. These can include anti-inflammatory drugs and anticoagulants. Not properly using hormone medicines can also cause you to have long periods.
- Other Diseases – Long periods can also be the result of certain medical conditions, including thyroid problems, liver or kidney disease, or blood coagulation disorders, like von Willebrand’s disease.
Because long menstrual periods can be caused by a wide range of medical problems, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor or healthcare provider to figure out what’s causing your periods to be abnormal.
NOTE: The information provided in this article should not be construed as providing medical advice of any kind. It offers general information about long menstrual periods and what may cause them. Please contact your doctor if you have questions about your individual medical circumstance.