For the vast majority of women, a typical period will last somewhere between three and five days. However, periods as short as two days, or as long as seven days, are still considered normal.1 On the other hand, many women experience irregular periods that vary from month to month – with cycles lasting anywhere from 21 to 35 days.2 This can stem from changes in hormone levels (due to age, stress, weight changes, and physical activity), and are also quite common. However, a prolonged period can sometimes be an indication of a different issue – so let’s take a look at a few of the possibilities.3
What is Considered A Prolonged Period?
Turns out, medical experts consider a period that lasts longer than one week to be a prolonged period. A prolonged period often goes hand-in-hand with excessively heavy periods. Both are known medically as “menorrhagia.”4
Possible Reasons For a Prolonged Period
If you’re experiencing a prolonged period within your menstrual cycle, there could be something else at play. Of course, it’s important to note that only your doctor can determine what’s best for you – so be sure to consult him or her when making any changes.
That said, let’s take a look at some of the reasons women experience a prolonged period or abnormal uterine bleeding.
It may sound counterintuitive, but bleeding can be a sign of pregnancy. Around 20-30 percent of women experience some kind of bleeding or spotting in their early pregnancy. Though this is not an actual period, if it occurs around the same time, these women may assume it is. Bleeding in early pregnancy could be from implantation, it could also be the sign of an early miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.5
2. Birth Control
Using birth control pills, patches, or injections might make a woman’s periods lighter and shorter, but not always.
Some women experience abnormally prolonged periods or spotting between periods that can go on for weeks. For others, it can just be the wrong mix of hormones, their body getting used to a new system, or the fact that they’ve skipped some pills.
Other women will continue to spot the entire time they take birth control pills.
The reason for this is still not clear to medical professionals, but it’s generally considered more of a frustration than a danger.6
On the flip side, doctors often use birth control pills to help women control abnormal bleeding that’s caused by such conditions as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis.7
3. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS, affects around 5-10% of all women. It’s caused by an imbalance in reproductive hormones.
PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility.
Women with PCOS may have tiny (non-harmful) cysts build up in their ovaries. Or, they may stop menstruating altogether. While others experience very short menstrual cycles and more frequent periods.8
Some women will experience lighter periods, while others may experience prolonged, heavy bleeding.9
4. Thyroid Problems
Your thyroid (and the hormone it produces) is responsible for your metabolism and the growth and development of your body. It also helps control your menstrual cycle. Sometimes, your thyroid can become overactive (too much hormone) or underactive (too little hormone). This can cause all sorts of chaos in your body.10
One of the key symptoms of an underactive thyroid – known as hypothyroidism – is excessive menstrual bleeding or long menstrual cycles.
Other symptoms may include feeling cold, fatigue, thinning hair, weight gain, and muscle pain.11
5. Uterine Fibroids or Polyps
Uterine polyps are growths that occur on the lining of your uterus – the same lining that you shed during your period.
Uterine fibroids are growths of the muscle cells in your uterus. They can occur both inside and outside of your uterus.
Both polyps and uterine fibroids can cause heavy or irregular bleeding, as well as pain. They can be removed surgically if your doctor deems it to be necessary.12
It’s estimated that 70-80 percent of women develop fibroids by age 50, so if you have them, you’re certainly not alone.13
6. Cervical Cancer
It’s important to acknowledge cervical cancer in this list. Symptoms of cervical cancer can include abnormal bleeding – after sexual intercourse, and between periods. It may also cause spotting or bleeding between periods.
It’s imperative that if you experience any abnormal bleeding, you should see your doctor.
Additionally, regular screening tests for early detection are available.14
Prolonged Periods – Final Thoughts
A period lasting 2 weeks isn’t fun for anyone. But rather than worrying about it at home, talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing a prolonged period outside of your usual menstrual cycle. It may be nothing of concern, but it’s always worth consulting with a medical professional on anything that doesn’t fit within a usual pattern.
What’s The Difference Between Folate and Folic Acid?
Can Eating Certain Foods Support Reproductive Health?
Can These 5 Lifestyle Changes Enhance Fertility?