Do you know when to expect your next menstrual cycle? Do you know what to expect during your period? If you aren’t sure of the answers to those questions, you may have irregular menses, or an irregular period.
Dr. Parisa Pourzand and her staff meet many patients who don’t know when their next period will be, or who don’t know what to expect when their period does occur. If your cycle varies in either when menses occur, how it feels, or how much you bleed, you may have irregular periods.
Often, the common understanding of a word and the medical definition of the same word are different. You may have learned that women menstruate every 28 days, but that’s not true for everyone. Your cycle may be anywhere from 21 to 28 days and still be considered regular. Most women bleed for about the same number of days each month.
All of that is to say that from a medical perspective, a normal period is a very individual thing. Your periods may be light, heavy, painful or not, long or short compared to someone else, but still be perfectly normal for you.
The best way to find out if you're experiencing irregular menses is to track your cycle for a few months. Note the date your period begins each month, along with when it ends, how heavy or light the flow is, whether you have spotting between periods, whether or not you have pain during your period, and any obvious changes to your mood, stress levels, or in your life in general.
Within a few months, you should be able to see patterns — or the lack of patterns.
Causes of irregular periods
There are some potential medical causes of irregular periods, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid disorders, or pelvic inflammatory disease, among others. When your irregular periods are caused by underlying medical issues, the best approach is to treat the underlying problem first.
Sometimes irregular periods are caused by non-medical issues. For example, if you’re under an unusual amount of stress, it can affect your menses. Even something like exercising too much can make your period irregular.
As you age, your period may change also. Perimenopause can have a major impact on your periods. Similarly, young women may have fluctuating hormones that affect their menses.
Some forms of birth control can cause irregularities, as well. Oral birth control (birth control pills), IUDs, implants, and rings have all been known to cause irregular bleeding. Breastfeeding, pregnancy loss, or extreme weight loss are a few other reasons you may be experiencing irregular periods.
What to do if you have irregular periods
Once you’ve determined that your cycle is irregular, what should you do? You should schedule an appointment with Dr. Pourzand. Having one or two irregular periods over the course of a year isn’t generally a cause for concern, but if you’ve detected a pattern of irregularity, an exam is in order.
It’s important to rule out any medical issues. Also if you’re uncomfortable, there may be solutions that could help. Talking to Dr. Pourzand about the issue is the best way to find out if you have any reason to worry.
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