Everything You Need to Know About Period Blood

hormonal health Jun 06, 2019

Period blood is probably not a hot topic of conversation around your coffee table... But as a woman, it’s most certainly something you’ve looked at and wondered ‘gee, is that normal?’

Well first up, in most cases it probably is normal.

There’s a lot of healthy variations in period blood which I’ll explain below. Of course, there are a few things you do not want to see and I’ll cover these too.

Why understanding your period blood is vital

The colour, consistency and flow of your period provide important insights into your overall health.

If you truly understand your cycle, you can use it as a monthly health check. Amazing!

In fact, evaluating your menstrual cycle is so important that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has called for it to be considered an additional vital sign! That’s kind of a big deal.

I’m a huge advocate for cycle charting for this very reason. Knowing your body and checking in each month with your period is almost like being able to access free monthly lab tests!

Being familiar with your monthly cycle makes it really easy to identify when something isn't quite right or if something changes.

Menstruation 101

Do you know what’s actually going on during your period?

Here’s the 20 second version:

In the first half of your cycle, the lining of your uterus thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If you don’t fall pregnant, the lining (aka the endometrium) will break down and pass through your vagina. This is known as your period.

Your menstrual fluid is made up of blood, cells and tissue. And just in case you didn’t already know, it leaves your body via your vagina which is not the same hole that your wee comes out of!

So how much blood loss is normal?

A normal healthy bleed is around 50ml.

More than 80ml is considered heavy and under 25ml is light. As a rough guide, one soaked normal size tampon is about 5ml and one soaked super pad/tampon is about 10ml.

If your period is really heavy and you're losing well over 80ml, you may have Menorrhagia. This is a condition where you suffer from abnormally heavy or prolonged bleeding.

A lot of women have heavy periods, but with Menorrhagia, the bleeding is so heavy that you often can't maintain your usual activities. If you think this might be you, talk to your GP as there are a number of different causes.

How to measure the amount of blood you are losing

As a rough guide, the first thing you need to do is determine your menstrual fluid loss:

  • Menstrual cups usually tell you how many ml they hold.
  • A soaked regular tampon is around 5ml.
  • A normal pad holds around 5ml
  • Extra absorbent pad or super tampons hold about 10ml

Don't get caught up on figuring out your exact amount. You'll know if your flow is too heavy because life will be severely interrupted by it.

What the colour of your period blood can tell you:

Most women are surprised to learn that the colour of their period blood can change throughout their period. And often varies a little from cycle to cycle!

If your menstrual blood is one colour and consistency at the beginning of your period, then changes as your flow gets heavier and then it's different again towards the end of your period, this is completely normal.

Bright red blood

This is what most women expect to see.

You’ll usually have bright red blood during the heaviest part of your period when things are really flowing.

You'll notice that it's not the same kind of blood you’d see if you were to accidentally cut yourself or scrape your knee. This is due to the additional tissue and uterine cells that menstrual fluid contains.

The only time you don’t want to see bright red blood is between periods. If this happens, you could have an infection or it may be breakthrough bleeding.

Dark red period blood

The longer your blood sits in your uterus, the darker it will become. This is simply due to your blood reacting to oxygen and is nothing to worry about. You will probably see this towards the end of your period.

You may also see dark red blood on the days when you're flow is heaviest.

Brown blood

A lot of women worry when they see brown period blood because it 'looks' unhealthy. It's most common to see at either the very end or beginning of your period.

Blood turns brown as it oxidises. So, the older it is, the browner it will become.

If you see brown blood at the beginning of your period, your body didn’t properly expel all of the blood and tissue during your last period. This is a sign that you may have low progesterone - one of the most common hormonal imbalances in women.

Brown blood is also seen after giving birth or sometimes if you have suffered a miscarriage without knowing you were pregnant.

Black blood

It sounds pretty scary but black period blood is not something to be instantly concerned about. If you experience this at the beginning or end of your period, its probably just oxidised blood. 

However, if it smells bad or is accompanied by an itchy vagina, you need to see your GP.

You should also seek medical advice if you have black bleeding at times other than during your period or if this makes up the majority of your period (rather than bright red blood).

Orange blood

Your blood can appear orange if it is mixed with cervical fluids or mucus. This sometimes happens around ovulation and is called ovulation bleeding (very original!)

If your blood looks orange during your period but the consistency and smell is no different than usual, it might not be anything to worry about - unless it's the only coloured blood you have.

Ie if you have mostly bright red blood with some orange blood at the start or end of your period it's likely nothing to worry about.

If your vaginal discharge (when you don’t have your period) has also changed colour, you may have a sexually transmitted infection or a bacterial infection so you should visit your GP to get this checked.

Blue or purple period blood

If you notice that your blood is purple or has a blue tinge, you might have too much estrogen in your body. Other signs of estrogen dominance include PMS, weight gain, low sex drive, fatigue, tender breasts and bloating.

It’s important to get your hormone levels tested and then work towards rebalancing your estrogen.

Pink blood

If you get pink spotting around the time of ovulation it's likely the ovulation bleeding I mentioned before - nothing to worry about.

It's also normal if you get a little bit of pink spotting from vaginal irritation after sex.

If your period blood is pink and you have a very light flow, you might have low estrogen levels. If not corrected, low estrogen can be detrimental to your long term health so its best to get this checked and see a doctor.

FYI low estrogen can be caused by over exercising, nutrient deficiencies, improper dieting or adrenal burnout. Click here for 21 symptoms of low estrogen.

What about Grey, yellow or green discharge?

If you have grey vaginal discharge that smells fishy (for lack of a better description), you probably have an imbalance in your vaginal bacteria. This is easily treatable and not sexually transmitted but I recommend seeing your doctor to discuss this.

Green or yellow vaginal mucus is a sign that you may have a sexually transmitted infection. Book an appointment with your doctor to discuss this.

Are blood clots normal?

Most women will have some small clots and this is nothing to worry about. Your body is removing broken down uterine tissue and its normal to see some of this in your period blood.

But, size really does matter.

If you experience clots that are bigger than 2cm I think it's best to make a doctor's appointment to discuss this.

 

What's normal for YOU?

I think one of the most important things to know is that we are all different.

Your normal and my normal won't be the same. But the information above should give you a good guide and help you monitor your monthly bleed.

I hope you can see the amazing benefits of paying close attention to your cycle and how understanding what's normal for you is a really great way to stay in touch with your health.

Be sure to share this article with your sister, bestie and other much loved women in your life.

 

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