Women's Health Tutorial

Menstrual Bleeding: What's Normal, What's Not

Most menstrual periods last from three to five days, but anywhere from two to seven days is normal. The amount of blood flow varies, too, but for most women, bleeding starts out light at first, followed by heavier flow for a day or two and then another light day or two. Sanitary pads or tampons, which are made of cotton or another absorbent material, are worn to absorb the blood flow. Sanitary pads are placed inside the underwear; tampons are inserted into the vagina.

A lighter flow or heavier flow doesn't mean your periods will always be that way, or that something is abnormal. However, if you are soaking one or more tampons or pads an hour during your cycle, you should check that everything is okay with a clinician. What appears as blood clots are actually pieces of endometrium and are no cause for concern. These clumps of pooled blood in the vagina usually occur when, instead of flowing freely, blood drains from the uterus and stays in the vagina until there is a change in position, such as from sitting to standing.

Women who use tampons should be aware of toxic shock syndrome, or TSS, a rare but serious-and sometimes fatal-disease that's been associated with leaving the tampon in place for too long. Tampon packages carry information about TSS on the box or inside. Because TSS mostly affects 15- to 19-year-olds, it's especially important for teenagers and college students to know what signs to look for. If you develop the following symptoms while menstruating, remove the tampon immediately and get medical help right away:
  • fever over 102 degrees Fahrenheit
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • dizziness, fainting, or near fainting when standing up
  • a rash that looks like a sunburn.

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