For many women, the beginning of a menstrual period means it’s time to stock up on chocolate, tissues, natural remedies, and heating pads to hide under until the worst of it passes. In a study of 408 women, 84% reported cramps occurring every period. One in four of these women have pain so severe, they rely on medication to function or are forced to abstain from regular social activities. 
For those fortunate enough to barely notice when their period starts — aside from bleeding — it may be difficult to understand why menstrual cramps are an excuse from events, school, and work. Yet for those who suffer from headaches, cramps, and back pain, it feels normal to get knocked out of their regular schedule for several hours or days every month. 
However, the intense menstrual pain experienced by this teenager was far from “normal,” and she and her doctors had no idea.
“It’s Just Hormones.”
Nineteen-year-old Megan Burgeen from the UK had a fairly average menstrual cycle until last September. Her periods became irregular and the cramps were agonizing. The bleeding itself was so heavy it often prevented her from continuing her daily routine. At times, she couldn’t walk normally. She missed the activities she loved, like dancing.
Her doctors dismissed these symptoms. They’re from hormones, nothing more.
In April, Burgeen’s diagnosis changed.
The young adult passed a worryingly large blood clot. Panicking, she sent a picture to her doctor.
“It was almost as if I gave birth to it, it was so big,” she said.
The doctor immediately called Burgeen in for an internal examination and was alarmed to find a mass growing on her cervix.
“The doctor was extremely surprised Megan had gone so long without some kind of internal examination,” her mother, Jenny Burgeen, said.
The blood clot was actually a piece of a tumor that was growing on her cervix. Burgeen’s new diagnosis was a rare form of cervical cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma.
Finally, a Proper Diagnosis
Due to chemotherapy, Burgeen lost her hair during the treatment and also underwent a hysterectomy. Despite these hardships, what aggravates her the most is how long it took to get a proper diagnosis after many months of her pain being dismissed as hormonal by her doctors.
“When I finally got a diagnosis, it was like I didn’t have to worry about not being listened to anymore,” she said.
Fortunately, the story has a happy ending. Burgeen underwent five rounds of chemotherapy and is now free of cancer. The doctors retrieved some of her eggs by the hysterectomy so she could choose to have biological children through a surrogate if she wished.
Throughout all of these difficulties, Burgeen maintained a positive attitude
“At first I was upset about the fact I’d lose my hair and not be able to carry children, but in the end, I just ended up looking at the positives like the fact I can be alive to watch my hair grow back and have kids through surrogacy,” she said. “It made it easier for me to accept it all and realize that it wasn’t the end of the world for me.” 
When is a Heavy Period a Cause for Concern?
While it is common for some women to experience heavy flows during their periods, it’s important to discern normal from unhealthy.
You should see your medical practitioner if you experience:
- Extremely heavy bleeding that soaks one tampon or pad within two hours
- Irregular vaginal bleeding between periods
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause
- Passing blood clots larger than the size of a quarter
- Severe cramping along with heavy blood loss, especially if these types of cramps have not occurred during past cycles
- Anemic symptoms, such as fatigue, spoon nails, paleness, ulcerations on the side of the mouth, dizziness, etc. 
These symptoms could be signs of:
- Hormone issues
- Growths in the uterus or womb
- Effects of some IUDs, usually ones without hormones
- Pregnancy-related problems
- Cancer in the uterus, cervix, or ovaries (rare)
- Bleeding disorders
- Health conditions, like endometriosis, thyroid problems, and pelvic inflammatory disease 
Some women may find it embarrassing to talk about periods and would rather wait for related issues to “go away on their own.” However, when it comes to your health, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. Menstrual cycles are normal and can be a big indicator of your overall health. Most people won’t hesitate to book an appointment for their eyes or lungs, and it shouldn’t be any different for women with vaginal or pelvic concerns.
If you are worried about irregular periods, intense cramps, or heavy menstrual bleeding, speak to a medical professional or book an internal examination.
- Giovanni Grandi, Serena Ferrari, Anjeza Xholli, Marianna Cannoletta, Federica Palma, Cecilia Romani, Annibale Volpe, and Angelo Cagnacci. Prevalence of menstrual pain in young women: what is dysmenorrhea? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3392715/ June 20, 2012
- Harvard Health Publishing. Painful Menstrual Cramps. https://www.health.harvard.edu/decision_guide/painful-menstrual-cramps- September 2019
- Lauren Steussy. New York Post. Teen’s heavy periods turn out to be cancerous cervix tumor https://nypost.com/2019/10/15/teens-heavy-periods-turn-out-to-be-cancerous-cervix-tumor/ October 15, 2019
- Anna Klepchukova, MD. Flo. What causes heavy periods and abnormal bleeding? https://flo.health/menstrual-cycle/health/period/heavy-bleeding-with-blood-clots December 6, 2018 Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD. WebMD. Why Is My Period So Heavy? https://www.webmd.com/women/heavy-period-causes-treatments#1 March 30, 2019