If your period is so heavy that you quickly soak through pads or tampons — or have to double up on different types of protection — there are things you can do to find relief.

You may be able to ease your symptoms and get your cycle back on track just by making a few tweaks to your diet. In some cases, getting enough rest and taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain killers can also do the trick.

If you don’t notice a change within the next 1 or 2 cycles, make an appointment to see your doctor. You should also see your doctor if you:

If you’re having irregular and heavy bleeding patterns near menopause, or you have any vaginal bleeding after being told you’re past menopause, you should see a doctor for immediate evaluation.

There are a few things you can do at home to ease your symptoms and get your cycle back on track.

Hydrate

If you bleed heavily for a few days, your blood volume could get too low. Drinking 4 to 6 extra cups of water each day can maintain your blood volume.

Drink an electrolyte solution like Gatorade or add more salt to your diet, to balance out the extra fluid you’re drinking.

Eat vitamin C-rich foods

This vitamin helps your body absorb iron, which can help prevent anemia. You’ll find it in citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits.

Vitamin C is also in:

  • red and green peppers
  • kiwis
  • strawberries
  • Brussels sprouts
  • broccoli
  • tomato juice

Add more iron to your diet

When you bleed, you lose iron. Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, a molecule that helps red blood cells carry oxygen. Very heavy periods can deplete your body of iron and lead to iron deficiency anemia.

Signs of anemia include:

  • fatigue
  • weakness
  • dizziness
  • pale skin

To get more of this nutrient, eat foods high in iron like:

  • lean beef
  • oysters
  • chicken and turkey
  • beans
  • tofu
  • spinach

Cook in a cast-iron pot

Another way to increase your iron intake is by cooking in a cast-iron skillet. Foods with a lot of moisture — like spaghetti sauce — absorb the most iron.

Stirring the pot often will pull even more iron into your food.

Just be careful not to overdo it. Cooking everything in an iron pot could give you more iron than you need — and it could lead to dangerously high levels in children.

Taking extra vitamins during your period might help with bleeding. Certain nutrients — like iron, especially — help replenish what you lose each month.

Check with your doctor before taking any supplement. They can determine whether you actually need to take a supplement, the appropriate dose for you, and side effects or interactions to watch for.

Potential supplements include:

Some OTC pain relievers can help reduce blood loss during your periods. This includes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil, Motrin, or aspirin.

NSAIDs don’t lighten bleeding as well as prescription drugs, but you can combine them with other medications for better relief. These drugs may also help relieve painful cramps.

High doses or long-term use of NSAIDs can lead to unwanted side effects. You should always have your doctor monitor your dose and never take NSAIDs if you’re allergic or have been told not to.

If you see your doctor about your heavy periods, they’ll likely start by prescribing one of the following medications:

Birth control methods

Pills, patches, and rings

Birth control pills, patches, and rings are different forms of hormonal birth control.

Hormonal birth control thins the uterine lining, typically resulting in less menstrual bleeding. It may also relieve other period symptoms, such as painful cramps.

You generally use the pill, patch, or ring for 21 days, then take 7 days off for menstruation. Newer birth control pills can provide a continuous dose of hormones throughout the month, resulting in fewer or no periods.

Common side effects of the pill and other hormonal methods include:

  • sore breasts
  • bloating
  • nausea
  • mood changes
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • weight gain
  • headaches

Birth control shot

The Depo-Provera shot is another form of hormonal birth control. Instead of self-administering it like you would with the pill or patch, your doctor will inject the medication into your arm or buttock.

It must be administered once every 3 months to remain effective.

Hormonal intrauterine device (IUD)

An IUD is a small device placed inside the uterus to prevent conception. Depending on the brand, a hormonal IUD — like Mirena — can be effective for 3 to 5 years.

Copper IUDs aren’t recommended for this purpose.

Tranexamic acid (Lysteda)

Lysteda is an antifibrinolytic tablet. It reduces bleeding by preventing your body from breaking down clots.

You only need to take it for a few days each month, but it won’t prevent you from getting pregnant like birth control drugs. Side effects include muscle cramps and headaches.

Norethindrone (Aygestin)

Aygestin is a pill containing the hormone progestin. Women with very heavy bleeding can take a 5-milligram dose, two times a day, from day 5 to 26 of their menstrual cycle.

Its side effects are similar to that of hormonal birth control methods.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) agonists

These drugs are used to temporarily treat heavy bleeding caused by endometriosis and uterine fibroids. They come in an injectable form and a nasal spray.

GnRH agonists shouldn’t be used for more than three to six months. Side effects may worsen over time and include:

  • hot flashes
  • headaches
  • weakened bones

Surgery may be an option if medication doesn’t relieve your symptoms.

Before recommending a specific procedure, your doctor will consider:

  • how severe your symptoms are
  • if an underlying cause is responsible
  • whether you plan to conceive

Surgeries include:

Focused ultrasound

This noninvasive treatment helps with bleeding caused by uterine fibroids. It uses ultrasound waves to shrink the fibroids.

Uterine artery embolization

This treatment is also used for uterine fibroids. Your surgeon will insert a catheter through an artery in your thigh and thread it to the arteries in your uterus. Tiny beads will be injected into the blood vessels that feed your fibroids, causing them to shrink.

Myomectomy

This procedure is done to remove uterine fibroids, but leaves your uterus intact. It can be done through your vagina, several small incisions in your abdomen (laparoscopy), or one larger cut in your abdomen.

How your surgeon does the procedure depends on the size, number, and location of your fibroids.

Endometrial ablation

This procedure is used to remove most of your uterine lining with a laser, heat, or radiofrequency energy. Afterward, your periods will be light to nonexistent, and you won’t be able to get pregnant.

Endometrial resection

Endometrial resection is similar to ablation. This procedure involves using a wire loop to remove your entire uterine lining. You won’t be able to get pregnant afterward.

Hysterectomy

This procedure is used to remove your entire uterus. It cures heavy bleeding, but you won’t be able to get pregnant afterward.

Until you find a treatment that relieves your heavy bleeding, there are a few things you can try to make your periods more bearable:

  • Try a menstrual cup. This small silicone cup fits inside your vagina and catches the blood as it’s released from your uterus. It can hold much more blood than a pad or tampon, and it’s less likely to leak. And because menstrual cups are reusable, they’re better for the environment than disposable sanitary products.
  • Wear period panties. These absorbent undergarments are designed to back up tampons and pads for preventing leaks. You can also wear them on their own. Manufacturers like Thinx claim that their product can absorb up to two tampons’ worth of blood without causing discomfort.
  • Use a heating pad. Although it won’t lighten your flow, a heating pad can help relieve painful menstrual cramps.

See your doctor if your period is unusually heavy for more than one or two months. You may be bleeding more than usual if:

  • you have to double up on protection to provide adequate coverage
  • you soak through one or more pads or tampons an hour
  • you have to change your pad or tampon during the night
  • you pass blood clots bigger than a quarter
  • you’re experiencing symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and pale skin
  • your periods last for more than a week at a time

Most causes of heavy periods, like fibroids, are more uncomfortable than serious. But if you don’t treat the problem and you bleed very heavily, you could develop anemia.

Your doctor will work with you to develop a care plan that suits your needs while relieving your symptoms. This may take a bit of trial and error, so be open with your doctor and give it time.