Most women are used to having their periods since early teenage years. Cramps, breast tenderness, chocolate cravings, and mood swings are all part and parcel of having two X chromosomes. And, while it’s pretty common to assume that a standard menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, it’s not exactly accurate. This number can vary greatly from one person to the next. That said, your period can also say a lot about your overall health. Therefore, it’s important to recognize what’s normal and what is an indication that you should seek medical advice.What causes irregular periods?
When would an irregular period be concerning? Should you ever consult with your doctor about seemingly normal — yet irregular — menses?
What’s An Irregular Period?
A full menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period and ends on the first day of the next period. If you start tracking them that way, you’ll get a notion of whether you have regular or irregular periods. Generally speaking, a standard range could be anywhere between 21 and 35 days. Any deviation from that length is considered irregular.
It’s also noteworthy that menstrual cycles vary greatly from one person to the next. For one woman, it could mean her period lasts longer than a week. For others, it could mean a heavier than usual flow, or cycles that vary in length from one month to the next. The term normal doesn’t have one specific definition.
What Does a Missed Period Mean?
An irregular period typically means that your cycle is not consistent and that your period does eventually or sporadically occur. If you have missed your period, it could be an irregularity or something else altogether. A missed period is most commonly due to pregnancy though it could also be due to changes in your life or a more serious medical reason.
10 Causes of Irregular Periods
Irregular periods are not uncommon to experience, and in most cases they are nothing to worry about. However, you may still want to know the cause of your irregular period, as it may be a symptom of another condition:
1. Change of Birth Control Method
Depending on which type of birth control you use, your menstrual flow could increase or decrease. If it contains estrogen or progestin, you may experience spotting between periods. By the same token, implanting an intrauterine device (IUD) may cause your periods to be heavier and longer for the first few months. Injected contraceptives may cause unpredictable bleeding — and depending on the type of injected birth control — you may even cease to have periods altogether. Plan B — also known as the morning-after pill — may cause your period to come early.
2. Hormonal Imbalance
Estrogen and progesterone are the hormones that regulate the menstrual cycle. However, they aren’t the only hormones your body produces. You have hormones that control all of your bodily functions – your metabolism, energy level, body temperature, immune system, and mood, among others. For example, cortisol is a hormone that helps your body process stressful situations. Melatonin helps you regulate sleep, while leptin regulates your appetite.
Any time your endocrine glands produce a higher or lower amount of hormones, you’ll experience an imbalance. This could be due to too much stress, illness, age, or environmental factors.
One of the most common ways a woman finds out she’s pregnant, is after missing a period. If you have an irregular cycle, you may not even notice at first. It’s also common to experience spotting in early pregnancy. If you experience heavier bleeding during your pregnancy, it could be an indication of an emergency medical issue, such as ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy, or miscarriage. Seek medical attention immediately.
4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
This condition is caused by an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, and is often a cause of infertility. If you have PCOS, you may experience fewer than eight periods in a year. Some women may even stop having their periods altogether. Other signs of PCOS include hirsutism (too much facial hair), thinning hair, weight gain, and skin tags. You may also notice your skin darkening along your neck, inside portion of the elbow, groin, and under your breasts.
Endometriosis is a condition that causes tissue similar to the lining of the uterus to grow somewhere outside the uterus. It’s more common to happen in women in their 30s and 40s. In addition to bleeding or spotting between periods, you may also experience extremely painful menstrual cramps, pain during sex, chronic lower back pain, bloating, constipation, and diarrhea.
6. Thyroid Disorders
Your thyroid is a gland at the base of your neck. It produces hormones that control your metabolism, your heartbeat, your energy level, your weight, and your menstrual cycle. Thyroid disease may cause it to produce either too much or not enough hormones, making your period lighter or heavier than usual. It can also cause it to suddenly become irregular. Signs that you may have a thyroid disorder include unexplainable weight gain, a puffy face, feeling cold even when it isn’t cold, joint pain, feeling sad or depressed, pale skin, and thinning hair.
7. Strenuous Exercise
Elite athletes often experience athletic amenorrhea – the absence of menstruation. For a person to be considered to have amenorrhea, she must have missed her period for at least three months. It’s not a disease, and it does not mean that a person is infertile. However, it does mean that intense levels of exercise are reducing the levels of estrogen and progesterone. Combined with inadequate nutritional intake, it can cause your body to go into starvation mode. It’s most often seen in elite gymnasts, long-distance runners, and professional ballet dancers.
8. Eating Disorders
Extreme thinness can also cause amenorrhea. When your body is in starvation mode, it focuses its energy on essential bodily functions – leaving your period on the back burner, as it is not necessary to keep you alive. In addition to causing a hormonal imbalance, lower estrogen also means a lack of calcium. In turn, this causes bones to become brittle and weak, increasing the likelihood of developing osteoporosis.
9. Certain Medications
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can reduce your menstrual flow. While that may sound ideal, long-term use could also increase the risk of blood clots. In addition, antidepressants can cause your period to become irregular or completely disrupt it. Chemotherapy may also completely stop your period. If your menstrual cycle became irregular after you started taking a specific medication, talk to your OB-GYN about possible effects on your reproductive health.
Most people have heard about menopause. However, its precursor, perimenopause, is not as well-known. It starts several years before menopause — usually during the 40s — as the ovaries gradually decrease their estrogen production. Symptoms include worse premenstrual symptoms, a lower sex drive, vaginal dryness, and the need to urinate more frequently.
When to See a Doctor for an Irregular Period
If you are having an irregular period, it is a good idea to see a physician as your irregular periods may be caused by something serious. There are a number of serious conditions that can cause irregular periods.
Call OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch for More Information
At OB-GYN Women’s Centre of Lakewood Ranch, we provide a variety of services for every woman. No matter your age or medical history, we’ll help you feel comfortable and answer all of your reproductive health-related questions.
Call us today to schedule an appointment.