Irregular menstruation is a common occurrence in women of different ages. However, if you often experience very short or long cycles that change each month or end up missing your period altogether, it could be a sign of an underlying health problem.
According to doctors, irregular periods are when cycles last longer than 38 days or if the cycle is earlier or later than seven to nine days.
Here are some potential causes of irregular menstruation:
When you get pregnant, your periods automatically stop. In fact, spotting or a missed period is the first sign of pregnancy.
Some other pregnancy symptoms may include:
- Sensitivity to smells
- Breast tenderness or a tingling sensation
In this case, taking an over-the-counter pregnancy test is the best course of action. If your test is positive, talk to a health-care professional so that you two can agree on the next best step.
If you start bleeding after a positive pregnancy, get in touch with a doctor as soon as possible, as this could be a sign of ectopic pregnancy. These kinds of pregnancies can be life-threatening if not treated correctly.
Here are some signs of ectopic pregnancy:
- Pain in the abdomen
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
One of the most common reasons for irregular menstruation includes PCOS—when cysts start to grow in the ovaries. Individuals with PCOS experience increased androgen, the male sex hormone. Androgen can disrupt ovulation and lead to irregular menstruation.
Moreover, PCOS can cause heavy bleeding when periods finally come. Some other symptoms of PCOS, coupled with irregular menstruation, include:
- Hair loss
- Insulin resistance
- Weight gain
- Difficulty getting pregnant
- Oily skin
- Excessive body or facial hair
Even though PCOS cannot be tested directly, doctors use blood tests and ultrasound scans that can be used to determine if there are any cysts on the ovaries.
Treatment of PCOS is based on whether the individual is trying to have a baby. In this case, medication can be given that allows ovulation.
If the individual is not trying to get pregnant, hormonal birth control is the most recommended treatment for PCOS to regulate periods. Individuals are also advised to avoid highly processed foods, including processed sugar, and are encouraged to lose weight.
High levels of anxiety and stress are correlated to irregular menstruation. Studies conducted in 2021 proved this by exploring how the stress of the Coronavirus pandemic affected women’s cycles.
A total of 210 participants participated and 54% said they noticed changes in their cycle during the initial months of the pandemic. Women who faced higher stress reported experiencing heavy, prolonged periods during this time.
Stress releases hormones like cortisol and adrenaline into the body. These hormones can cause imbalances in the body with the sex hormones that regulate one’s cycle.
Even though some amount of stress is normal and can save a person’s life, chronic stress has a terrible impact on physical and mental health.
Someone who always finds themselves stressed may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional. Talking through feelings and learning strategies to mitigate stress can help manage it in the long run.
Did you know that one in ten females have endometriosis when they reach reproductive age?
Endometriosis is when the tissue that lines the uterus starts to grow toward the outside. This causes significant pain, particularly during the time of menstruation.
Other symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Periods that last for several weeks
- Heavy flow
- Painful bowel movements
- Bleeding or spotting between periods
- Pain after or during sexual intercourse
Endometriosis can only be diagnosed with exploratory surgery. Even though this condition has no cure, hormone therapy and medication can help alleviate symptoms.
Individuals trying to get pregnant while suffering from endometriosis may be required to undergo surgery to remove the tissue outside the uterus.
How Can You Track Your Periods?
It is vital to keep track of periods and note when your cycle starts and ends so that you can understand your cycle irregularity.
For example, if you are going through a stressful period in your life and your period gets delayed or is different than usual, you will be able to compare it to your previous cycles.
Period tracking can be done on a calendar, diary, or using an application to track your cycle. Make a note of when the bleeding occurs and write down how you feel each day and how heavy or light the flow is with each passing day.
After tracking your cycle for a few months, you can determine whether your menstruation cycle is regular or irregular.
Tracking your period can also be helpful when talking to your doctor about your cycle, as it can help them determine what your regular cycle looks like.
For further information about menstruation, reach out to a North Carolina women’s wellness professional at Imperial Center Family Medicine.