Just because you’ve been getting a period every month, give or take, since puberty doesn’t mean that you have it all figured out.

For example, why on earth do you sometimes have large, dark clumps of jelly sticking to your menstrual pad or tampon? Shouldn’t menstruation blood be more of a liquid than a jam?

Well, just like blood running throughout your body can clot, so can your period blood. But while a clot in your leg can be ominous, clots in periods are completely normal and generally nothing to worry about.

Why are there clots in period blood?

Susan Wysocki, a nurse practitioner and board member of the American Sexual Health Association, explains, “Our bodies are engineered in a way that blood, with the help of internal chemicals, clots so that we don’t bleed to death.”

Typically, anti-coagulants released by the body during menstruation fend off period clots. But sometimes, especially if you have a heavy flow, not all of your uterine tissue is able to be broken down, which leads to clots forming and being released during menstruation.

These clots are typically red or dark in colour and appear during the heaviest days of a woman’s period.

Do all women get period clots?

In short, no. “It really depends on individual chemistry and whether they have a heavy or light period,” Wysocki says.

It also isn’t unusual to experience clots sporadically throughout your years of menstruation. Interestingly enough, women might notice period clots during the first and last years of their periods.

“It’s not unusual for women to have heavy, heavy bleeding during puberty”, which could likely involve clotting, Wysocki says.

On the other end of the spectrum are peri-menopausal women, whose ovulation and menstruation are beginning to occur further apart. When they finally do start bleeding, their periods might be heavier than they’re used to and contain clots.

What does this mean for your health?

Usually period clots are nothing to worry about. But in some cases, it can be a sign of a bigger medical problem.

According to Wysocki, it’s possible a sudden change could be due to a miscarriage, disease, or infection. (Although in these cases, clotting would probably be accompanied by pain and other symptoms.)

Clot-filled periods could also be a sign of uterine fibroids, or small, non-cancerous growths in the uterus that a study out of the Women’s Hospital of Birmingham found will be experienced by 70% of women before they turn 50.

When should you see a doctor?

There are some instances when you should talk to a medical professional. For example, clotting that’s accompanied by weakness and fatigue could be a sign of anaemia, a condition in which your body doesn’t produce enough red blood cells to carry oxygen.

Wysocki also says that teens who experience heavy, clot-filled periods which leave them pale and light-headed should consult a doctor to rule out von Willebrand disease (VWD), a condition that prevents blood from clotting properly. (She says women typically discover if they have VWD during adolescence due to how annoying and disruptive the periods are.)

Wysocki also notes that women should also consult a professional if they notice a sudden change in their period or if they’re experiencing overall discomfort.

“Some people might think that ‘normal’ is being miserable, which it doesn’t have to be,” she says. Hormonal contraceptives including the pill, patch and IUD are effective ways to alleviate heavy periods – and the clots that go with them.

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