Having a period means that your vagina might unleash clots of blood that look nothing like the tidy little splashes of fluid you see in most tampon commercials. While period clots can be part and parcel of menstruation, sometimes they can be a sign that something isn’t quite right in your body. Here’s how to know the difference.
Period clots usually form if you have a really heavy flow.
First, a mini-primer on blood clots in general.
When you think about clots of blood, you might imagine the kind that come together when you have a cut. Your body springs into action, combining enough platelets (blood cells that adhere to each other) and proteins from plasma (the liquid part of your blood) to plug the injured blood vessel, the Mayo Clinic says. This is how clots help to stop bleeding.
Blood can also clot in your veins, especially if you have risk factors like being pregnant, which causes hormone changes that increase your blood clot risk, or recent surgery, because moving less also contributes to this hazard. These clots can dissipate without harm, but sometimes they can be life-threatening.
The blood clots that can emerge from your vagina during your period are a bit different than these other types, though. Period clots are comprised of the endometrial lining that builds up in your uterus in preparation for pregnancy, then sloughs off during your period when you don’t conceive.
“Clots are normal, but they typically happen when a [person] has a heavy flow,” G. Thomas Ruiz, M.D., lead ob/gyn at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California, tells SELF.
This is in part because a gushing period prompts your body to form clots so you don’t lose more blood than you should (around two to three tablespoons over the course of your entire period). Also, the opening of your cervix (the narrow passage at the lower end of your uterus) is pretty small. If you have a substantial flow, that allows the blood to build up in your uterus, Dr. Ruiz explains, giving components like platelets and plasma proteins time to congeal.
If your period clots are bigger than a quarter, see your doctor.
For the most part, period clots are a completely normal part of menstruation, Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., a clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale Medical School, tells SELF.
But if you’re seeing clots the size of a quarter or larger, you should visit your doctor, according to the CDC.
“If someone is passing quarter-size clots, that tells me that there could be something wrong [in] the uterus that needs further investigation,” Dr. Ruiz says. You can even take a picture of what you’re seeing so that your doctor can look during your visit. “It helps show me the magnitude of what’s been going on,” Dr. Ruiz says.
- You’re soaking through one or more tampons or pads every hour for multiple hours in a row.
- You need to use two pads at a time.
- You have to change your pad or tampon during the night.
- You bleed for more than seven days.
- Your flow is so heavy that it sometimes prevents you from living your normal life.
- You regularly experience pelvic pain (especially in your lower abdomen) during your period.
- You’re constantly fatigued.