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Are Menstrual Clots Normal?

One of the “joys” of womanhood, our monthly menstrual flow, can sometimes come with some surprises. One of those occurrences for many women is menstrual blood clots. Most women want to know if this is normal – and why it is happening.

Your Period

During your monthly cycle the lining of your uterus (endometrium) grows thick and increases the blood supply to support a potential pregnancy. When a pregnancy does not occur the drop in hormones (especially progesterone) leads to a release of the innermost lining of the uterus and we experience a period. In an average period women lose 30-40ml (6-8 tsp) of blood, with women experiencing heavy periods losing more than 60ml (12 tsp).

Blood Clots During Your Period

In a typical menstrual flow, the blood is not clotted due to the release of anticoagulants. The contraction of the uterus also stops further bleeding from the remaining blood supply to the uterus, and helps to expel the menstrual blood. After 3 to 4 days of bleeding, most of the inner lining of the endometrium (the “stratum functionalis”) has been released and blood loss slows considerably.

Blood clots are often a consequence of heavy menstrual flow. When the blood loss is too much, or too fast, the anticoagulants produced are not adequate to breakdown the lining of the uterus and prevent further clotting. Most women who experience clotting do so on the heaviest days of their menstrual period.

Possible Underlying Causes of Menstrual Blood Clots

  1. Miscarriage

Sometimes clots are actually a very early stage miscarriage. These clots may be found along with small gray clumps of tissue. If you experience other signs or symptoms of pregnancy along with clots, you may consider having your beta HCG levels tested to determine if it was, indeed, an early miscarriage.

  1. Uterine Fibroids (Leiomyomas)

Uterine fibroids are benign (non-cancerous) growths that occur in the muscular layer of the uterus. Some women with fibroids experience no symptoms at all, but for many women with fibroids they experience heavy periods (and blood clots) as a result. Fibroids are more likely to occur as we get older, especially after having children. Fibroids are also more common in women of African descent, those who are overweight and those with a family history of fibroids.

  1. Adenomyosis

Adenomyosis occurs when the endometrium breaks through into the muscular layer of the uterus (the myometrium). This can cause cramping, bloating, heavier menstrual periods and the presence of blood clots. Adenomyosis is also more common with age, in women who have had children, and in those who have had uterine surgery (such as a Caesarean section).

  1. Iron deficiency

In one of the great injustices in women’s health one major consequence of heavy periods, iron deficiency, can also lead to heavy periods. If you are experiencing heavy periods it is vitally important to test your hemoglobin, hematocrit and ferritin (iron) levels and build up your iron levels if needed.

  1. Hormonal imbalances

Imbalances between the two main female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, can lead to increased thickening of the uterine lining, resulting in heavy menstrual periods and blood clots. Imbalances in these hormones can occur at any stage of the reproductive life span, but are most common during adolescence and through the 40s and perimenopausal years.

  1. Thyroid imbalances

The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland in your neck that controls your metabolic rate and has significant impacts on your hormonal health. An underactive thyroid can cause many symptoms – fatigue, difficulty losing weight, hair loss, and heavy periods. And with these heavy periods may come menstrual blood clots.

Recommended Testing for Menstrual Clots

If you regularly experience blood clots during your period, having some laboratory and imaging studies done is a good idea. It can help you understand why you are experiencing blood clots and your Naturopathic or Medical Doctor can work with you to determine an appropriate treatment plan.

Complete blood cell count – including hemoglobin and hematocrit to look for healthy red blood cells

Ferritin – to assess for iron deficiency anemia

TSH and complete thyroid panel – to assess health of the thyroid

Female hormone panel – to compare levels of estrogen and progesterone, along with other reproductive hormones, to ensure balance

Transvaginal or pelvic ultrasound – to identify uterine fibroids or other abnormalities of the uterus and uterine lining

MRI – a further visual assessment of the uterus if ultrasound is not adequate

If you are experiencing heavy periods and menstrual clotting, speaking to your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor can help you understand why you are experiencing these symptoms and develop a treatment that is as unique to your body and your period.

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.

References:

Young, B. Wheater’s Functional Histology, 6th Edition, 2014.

Melmed, S. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 2016.

 

Understanding Spotting Between Periods

“Why am I spotting?” is a common question that comes up in my naturopathic practice, impacting up to 1 in 3 women at some point in their reproductive lifespan. Spotting is most common in women during adolescence and during the transition to menopause, but can occur at any point in a woman’s life. While most women are told spotting is not significant, speaking to your doctor is suggested to determine the underlying cause.

What is Spotting

Spotting, also called intermenstrual bleeding, or even more technically “metrorrhagia” occurs when there is bleeding from the uterus at irregular intervals, most often between expected menstrual periods.

Causes of Spotting

  1. Ovulation

Ovulation is the most common cause of spotting in women. Around ovulation estrogen levels drop off slightly as an egg is released from the ovary. This drop in estrogen can lead to bleeding that is most often significantly lighter than a period and lasts for a shorter time. The blood may also be a different colour – brownish or pink. This ovulatory spotting is considered to be normal, but you should discuss with your health care provider to ensure nothing else is causing this symptom.

  1. Birth control pill

Birth control pills, and other forms of hormonal contraception (IUDs, patches, injections and implants), commonly cause spotting (called “breakthrough bleeding”) during the first few months of use. Most common in the first three months, for some women it doesn’t improve – if this happens a higher dose birth control or different method of contraception may be needed. Breakthrough bleeding is also common if you don’t take your pills as directed (missing a day or not taking at the same time each day). Women who smoke and take birth control pills are more likely to experience breakthrough bleeding (and should consider other forms of contraception due to the increased risk of blood clots.)

Other medications have also been found to be associated with intermenstrual bleeding, including anticoagulants (warfarin, heparin), antipsychotics, corticosteroids, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs.)

  1. Polycystic ovarian syndrome

One of the hallmarks of PCOS is irregular periods. In PCOS women do not ovulate, which leads to a lack of progesterone production and unopposed estrogen causes continued growth of the uterine lining. The lining will continue to thicken until it outgrows its blood supply and degenerates. Different sections of the lining may outgrow their blood supply at different times, causing spotting.

This lack of ovulation can also have similar results in adolescent girls who do not yet have a mature reproductive hormone cascade, resulting in spotting.

  1. Local infections

Infections of the vagina, cervix and endometrial lining can all cause spotting between periods. The infection is most often secondary to a sexually transmitted infection, but can also occur with pelvic inflammatory disease. Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis) or uterine lining (endometritis) can also cause bleeding after sexual intercourse.

  1. Uterine or Cervical Polyps

Polyps are soft growths that can occur on the inside surface of the uterus or on the surface of the cervix. These growths are benign but may cause irregular bleeding, especially after intercourse.

  1. Perimenopause

The changes in hormone balance that occur in the years prior to menopause can lead to irregular periods and spotting between periods. With the transition to menopause comes a decrease in egg quality, resulting in less progesterone production and shorter menstrual cycles. The decline in successful ovulation can also lead to longer cycles. And both of these states of hormonal imbalance can lead to spotting.

  1. Thyroid hormone imbalances

The healthy function of the thyroid directly influences the healthy function of the reproductive organs. Under functioning of the thyroid (hypothyroidism) has been known to cause menstrual spotting, and correcting the underlying imbalance typically resolves the symptom.

  1. Pregnancy

Spotting in pregnancy can be an alarming symptom, but for many women it is totally normal. Some women experience spotting associated with implantation that can be very similar to a menstrual period. If you do experience spotting in pregnancy, see a doctor immediately to ensure optimal safety for both mom and baby, and to rule out an ectopic pregnancy which can be life-threatening if not treated.

  1. Uncommon causes

Less common causes for intermenstrual spotting include foreign bodies in the vagina (most often toilet paper or tampons) and certain types of reproductive cancers, including cervical, ovarian, endometrial and vulvar cancers. Clotting disorders can also worsen spotting and should be considered in teen girls with heavy periods or frequent spotting.

Testing for Spotting

While most spotting between menstrual cycles is benign and normal, it is important to try to identify an underlying cause, and correct it if possible. Achieving hormone harmony is possible, and can be done with the support of your Naturopathic Doctor.

Discuss this checklist with your Medical or Naturopathic Doctor to help you achieve your personal hormone balance.

Menstrual spotting checklist

Disclaimer

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is meant to augment and not replace consultation with a licensed health care provider. Consultation with a Naturopathic Doctor or other primary care provider is recommended for anyone suffering from a health problem.