When Periods are Heavy and Painful

Five to 15% of girls and women with heavy periods may have von Willenbrand disease (VWD), though most people have never heard of the disorder.

VWD is an inherited bleeding disorder in which the person doesn’t have enough von Willebrand factor, a protein necessary for blood to clot properly. Both men and women can have VWD, but women often first experience problems when they get their first period.

VWD is not the only cause of heavy periods, so it’s important for your ob-gyn to rule out other potential causes, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids or polyps, or a malfunctioning thyroid.

Women with VWD can have heavy, painful periods that last more than seven days. This is not normal, but women may not realize this because they don’t have anyone to compare it to or because their sisters and mother may also have had heavy periods. It’s important to know that VWD runs in families and often goes undiagnosed.

The disorder may also cause nosebleeds, easy bruising, bleeding after tooth extraction, bleeding from minor cuts, and bleeding gums. Women experiencing such symptoms should talk with their doctor.

A proper VWD diagnosis can help prevent unexpected and serious complications such as postpartum hemorrhage or bleeding after surgery. If a woman is diagnosed with VWD, her ob-gyn should work with a hematologist—a physician who specializes in blood disorders—to coordinate her care.

VWD can be treated, often with hormonal contraception that can make periods shorter and lighter. Other medications to control bleeding are also available. Heavy, painful, and long periods are not normal. Talk with your ob-gyn so you can find some relief.