Although nature requires women to menstruate during childbearing years, each woman’s cycle is unique. Some women control menstruation with little effort, and the effects of a period are insignificant. Other women are plagued with issues related to premenstrual syndrome, heavy bleeding and weight gain that negatively affect their lives each month.
The Menstrual Cycle
Approximately once per month, a woman’s body prepares for the possibility of a pregnancy. An egg that has matured is released by one of two ovaries and travels through the Fallopian tube on its way to the uterus. If it's fertilized by sperm in the process, it attaches itself to the thick, interior lining of the uterus to grow into a fetus. If fertilization doesn't take place, the egg and the thickened uterine lining are shed out of the body in a menstrual period. Various hormones are at work in the body to ensure that the process of menstruation takes place. One of these hormones, estrogen, is responsible for ensuring that the uterine lining is thickened to support a pregnancy if one occurs. Estrogen levels rise at the beginning of the menstrual cycle to initiate this process.
Some women experience heavy bleeding with their menstrual period. The medical term for this condition is called menorrhagia, defined by the University of Rochester as a situation in which a woman is bleeding enough to soak through a tampon or sanitary napkin enough that it has to be changed at least once an hour. Menorrhagia also includes menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than seven days, or bleeding between periods.
Weight gain can be associated with a menstrual period, particularly in the days just before the onset of bleeding. Weight gain, due to water retention, can lead to feeling bloated or the sensation of fullness in the abdomen and extremities. Water retention is fluid that's held in the tissues of the body instead of passing through urination. Bloating and weight gain may also be the result of air in the gastrointestinal tract; causing excess gas and distention.
Because of the need for hormones to continue the process of menstruation, fluctuations in hormone levels or conditions that may cause an excess of one hormone without the balance of the other can cause symptoms of heavy menstrual bleeding and weight gain. Dr. Christiane Northrup, an author and specialist in women’s health issues, relates excess estrogen in the body as a source of weight gain and menorrhagia. Estrogen is typically balanced by the hormone progesterone, and symptoms can occur when there's an imbalance of these hormones in the body. Because estrogen is responsible for building up the uterine lining before menstruation, excess estrogen in the body may contribute to more tissue and blood developing in the uterus. If a pregnancy doesn't occur, a menstrual period then has excessive bleeding and can last for several days. An increase in estrogen can also cause the body to retain water and can affect the gastrointestinal tract, slowing the process of emptying its contents and producing gas.
Heavy bleeding with a menstrual period, coupled with weight gain, should be evaluated by a physician for a definitive cause. For women who experience severe symptoms caused by a hormonal imbalance, a physician can prescribe hormone replacement to offset an increase in estrogen. Hormone replacement can be given via injection, transdermal patch, or through an intrauterine device that releases a specific drug to balance hormone levels. Treatment of heavy periods and weight gain can reduce unpleasant symptoms and make the time of a menstrual period less difficult for many women.