What Do Period Clots Mean?

If you've been having periods for any amount of time, you've probably already had a run-in with a blood clot. If you don't know what I'm talking about, well, lucky you. Please allow me to draw you a word picture: Period blood clots are thick, jelly-like, bright or dark red blobs of "chunky blood." They can pop up on our pads or tampons, or otherwise be expelled during our heaviest flows, and it's hard to not get freaked out when you see one. After all, isn't blood supposed to be, you know ... not chunky?

But while period clots look like something that should be at the bottom of a medical wastebasket and not something that should be plopping out of your junk, you shouldn't freak out if you see them. Most of us get them from time to time. And even if your period clots are a sign of some health issue, it won't be anything life-threatening. 

Though clots may look like vitally important parts of our internal organs that just happen to be falling out of our vaginas, they're just blood. Typically, your body releases anticoagulants during your menstrual flow, which break down uterine tissue and prevent it from clotting. However, when your period is particularly heavy, your blood sometimes flows too quickly for the anticoagulants to function correctly — and voila, period clots. According to the CDC, period blood clots smaller than a quarter are normal and no cause for concern.

If you're experiencing blood clots and enormously heavy flow every time you get your period, talk with your doctor; they may want to check you for other health problems and test you for anemia. Also talk to your doctor if you're passing blood clots larger than a quarter — you could be experiencing one of the five health problems below.

1. Uterine Fibroids

Uterine fibroids are benign tumors that grow inside (you guessed it!) the uterus. But the fact that they're benign doesn't mean that they are always chill — though most women with uterine fibroids don't experience any negative symptoms from them, they can cause physical pain (including in the abdomen and during sexual activity), pressure on the bladder, and long, heavy periods (often with many blood clots). If this sounds like you, take yourself and your ute to a doctor who can check to see if you have fibroids, and then discuss your options.

2. Birth Control

Certain women's bodies respond to hormonal birth control (like the pill) or non-hormonal birth control (like the copper IUD) by developing the blood disorder menorrhagia. The primary symptom is a period that lasts longer than seven days, or has an abnormally heavy flow. An abnormally heavy flow is indicated by you having to change pads or tampons frequently (every two hours or so), or passing large blood clots. If your ultra-heavy and clot-filled flow showed up right around the time you started using a new form of birth control, have a chat about it with your doctor.

3. Miscarriage

Some experts estimate that 15 to 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage before the 20th week; the actual number is likely much higher, because if you are not aware that you're pregnant and miscarry early on, it may simply look like a very heavy flow. Blood clots are a common part of miscarriage. That being said, if you suddenly get blood clots during one period and find that they are gone the next, don't panic that you miscarried an unknown pregnancy — lots of things can cause blood clots, including random fluctuations in our hormones.

4. Perimenopause

Heavy periods with big blood clots are a common sign of perimenopause, the physical stage before true menopause. Perimenopause causes the body's production of progesterone to fluctuate. While this hormone once paired with estrogen to maintain regular periods and typical amounts of endometrial lining (the tissue that turns to period blood), in perimenopause, there is less to go around. This has the effect of allowing estrogen levels in the body to rise much higher than they would have in the past, which in turn can lead to abnormally thick endometrial tissue, which can then lead to crazy-heavy periods and blood clots. 

Again, there's no reason to panic and think that you're going into premature perimenopause just because you're getting some period clots. If they seem abnormally large or frequent, talk to your doctor about it — they'll set you straight.

5. Clotting Abnormalities

There are some hereditary diseases that make bodies prone to excessive bleeding — von Willebrand disease is one of the better-known ones. With these diseases, periods can often be incredibly heavy, and include very large blood clots. People with von Willebrand disease often also bruise easily and experience frequent prolonged bleeding, such as nosebleeds or bloody gums. Again, if this sounds like you, hie thee to a doctor.

The main lesson to remember? Blood clots may be unpleasant to look at, but you shouldn't ignore them; those little suckers may be trying to tell you something.

Want more women's health coverage? Check out Bustle's new podcast, Honestly Though, which tackles all the questions you're afraid to ask. 

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