Science behind the length of menstrual bleeding
Everyone’s periods are different, but on average, they last anywhere from 2 to 7 days, and occur every 21 to 35 days (and you can predict when your next period will arrive with our online period calculator).
The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones. It all starts in the part of the brain called the hypothalamus, which releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GRH). This hormone affects the pituitary gland and induces the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Despite the fact that these hormones are released in the brain, they are responsible for the normal functioning of the ovaries. If you thought periods were pretty straightforward — think again!
Under the influence of FSH and LH, the ovaries produce estrogens and progesterone. All these sex hormones can directly affect the production of each other and affect each other through a feedback mechanism, when a large amount of one of them slows down the production of another.
The menstrual cycle consists of several phases linked to fluctuating hormone levels:
- The follicular phase starts on the first day of a period and typically lasts 10 –16 days, depending on the length of the cycle. The main hormone of this phase is estrogen. During this phase, it increases the inner layer of the uterus (endometrium) after menstruation and stimulates the growth of the follicles in the ovaries.
- Ovulation occurs at the end of the follicular phase. During this period, high estrogen levels increase the levels of FSH and LH. After a follicle ruptures in an ovary, it turns into a corpus luteum (which looks like a tiny yellow ball). Later, this structure will produce progesterone, the main hormone of the next phase.
- The luteal phase comes next and wraps up the second half of the cycle. Progesterone is the main hormone in this phase, and it gets to work preparing the endometrium for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. Under the influence of progesterone, the thickening of the endometrium slows down. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum disappears, and hormone levels drop. When the endometrium doesn’t have enough hormonal support, it separates from the uterine walls — this is your period.
Of all the stuff that grows and changes over the course of a menstrual cycle because of hormones, the endometrium is last in line. These hormones can cause variations in period length and intensity. These hormonal factors can make periods longer:
- Pituitary hormones imbalance — Any structural changes in the pituitary gland lead to fluctuations in the production of FSH and LH. This affects how long periods last. For instance, a 2012 study of 259 healthy women showed that increased levels of FSH were associated with longer menstrual bleeding.
- Decreased thyroid hormone levels can cause longer and heavier periods.
- High estrogen can lead to the endometrium becoming loose, with lots of blood vessels. This increases the duration of periods too.
- Anovulatory cycles — If ovulation doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum doesn’t form and progesterone can’t support the development of the endometrium. This leads to excess overgrowth of the tissue and long periods (more than seven days).
Can you make your period end faster?
So now we know that menstrual bleeding occurs when your uterus sheds its inner lining (endometrium) at the beginning of each cycle. And we know why that happens. But is there a way to stop it once it starts? Not really. There aren’t any medications or pills to stop menstruation immediately once it starts. But! You can take hormonal birth control to stop periods before they start, or take other medications to make your periods lighter. Let’s explore this in detail.
Hormonal birth control
Certain hormonal contraceptives can lighten or even stop your periods entirely. Birth control pills inhibit the growth of the endometrium throughout the cycle, which means that your body will have to shed a smaller amount of blood and tissue each month.
There are also extended-cycle birth control options where you take active pills continuously without taking days off. These can be used to stop your period from happening. In some cases, specialists recommend this for people who experience heavy menstrual bleeding or other menstrual cycle issues — for example, people with painful periods due to endometriosis — who can benefit from skipping periods.
Extended-cycle birth control can also be used to skip your period during an important event, such as a holiday or wedding. However, you shouldn’t attempt to do this without medical supervision. Other types of hormonal contraceptives, such as the subdermal implant and hormonal IUDs, can also stop your period for a while.
NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, work by reducing the production of pro-inflammatory substances called prostaglandins, which are involved in the mechanism that triggers your periods. Because it reduces prostaglandins, high-dose ibuprofen can slow down your menstrual bleeding and make your flow lighter; however, it shouldn’t be used to skip or stop periods altogether.
Although most NSAIDs are sold as over-the-counter medications, they can still cause adverse effects, such as stomach ulcers, gastritis, and coagulation problems. Never exceed the maximum recommended doses unless your physician prescribes it.
Tranexamic acid has been studied extensively for the relief of heavy menstrual bleeding. In 11 randomized controlled studies, oral tranexamic acid reduced blood loss by 60 percent. However, these studies have shown that tranexamic acid does not affect the duration of menstruation.
Is it safe to stop or shorten your period?
In most cases, using these strategies to help stop or shorten your period every now and then is safe. But if your periods are heavy and you experience other uncomfortable symptoms — such as painful cramps — it’s probably a good idea to visit a health care provider.
There are certain underlying health conditions that could cause longer periods, and it’s important to receive a medical evaluation so these conditions can be ruled out.
Can pads or tampons make your period end faster?
Some people might feel like their periods end faster when they use tampons, while others say that using pads seemingly shortens their period length because pads do not hamper period flow. However, there is no scientific evidence that either tampons or pads can make your period end faster.
If you’re worried about the hassle of having your period during a trip or important event, you could also consider using different period products, such as a menstrual cup. Specific period products won’t make your period end faster, but they can help you feel more comfortable during your period and prevent leaks.
There are different methods that can be used to skip a period before it starts, such as taking birth control pills continuously. However, talk to your health care provider before making any changes to your contraception or starting new medications or supplements.
In reality, there’s no proven way to stop periods immediately once they have started. However, certain strategies and medications can help lighten your menstrual flow and relieve period-related symptoms. This can help you feel more comfortable and free during your periods.