Before we can discuss reasons your period may be irregular, we should define a regular period. For the majority of women, a menstrual cycle is somewhere between 21 and 35 days. However, 14%-25% have cycles that are either longer or shorter, that are heavier or lighter than most women, or that involve symptoms such as debilitating cramping.
Dr. Parisa Pourzand and her staff know that sometimes it’s surprising to find that your menstrual cycle isn’t normal. You may think that changing pads every hour is just what everyone does, but that’s not the case. We can help you understand if your cycle is irregular, and offer treatment suggestions as appropriate.
There are different medical names for different types of menstrual irregularities. The following are the most common:
- Amenorrhea - the lack of a menstrual period without being pregnant
- Oligomenorrhea - periods that are more than 35 days apart, or that happen infrequently
- Menorrhagia - heavy menstrual periods with excessive bleeding
- Prolonged bleeding - periods that last more than eight days
- Dysmenorrhea - periods that involve severe cramping
Other, less common irregularities include:
- Polymenorrhea - menstrual periods that are less than 21 days apart
- Irregularity from cycle-to-cycle by more than 20 days
- Shortened bleeding - a period that lasts less than two days
- Intermenstrual bleeding - spotting between periods
Medical issues and irregular menses
There are a few different medical problems that can cause your period to be irregular. For example, polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is a hormonal disorder. When you have PCOS, your ovaries and adrenal glands produce too many male hormones and your body doesn’t use insulin properly. Nearly 90% of women who have irregular periods have PCOS!
Another common cause of irregular periods is a thyroid or pituitary gland disorder. Both hypothyroidism (not enough thyroid hormone) and hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) can affect menstrual regularity. Hyperprolactinemia, a pituitary gland problem, can also make your period irregular.
Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, may also impact the regularity of your period. PID is usually caused by sexually transmitted infections, and involves inflammation of your reproductive system.
Non-disease causes of menstrual irregularity
There are also some non-medical causes of irregular periods. For example, perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause can make your cycle much more erratic. Some 70% of women experience menstrual irregularities during perimenopause.
Another non-disease cause of irregular menses is chronic stress. Anxiety, whether short- or long-term, may also cause a hormonal imbalance, which in turn, can affect your cycle.
Excessive exercise can make your cycle irregular, or make your period stop altogether. If you’re training for a high-demand event such as an Ironman competition and you notice irregularity, this could be the reason.
Eating disorders or weight loss can cause menstrual irregularities. Illness, extreme dieting, and other reasons for losing a great deal of weight may impact the regularity of your menses.
If you’re young, your period may be irregular. For some women, it takes several years before a regular pattern is established.
Finally, some forms of birth control can affect the regularity of your cycle. Oral contraceptives, IUDs, implants, and rings have all been associated with irregular periods.
The best way to find out why your period is irregular is to talk to a highly trained professional. Dr. Pourzand performs a physical exam, along with talking to you about your medical history and overall lifestyle, to determine the cause of your irregular menses. If you’re concerned about whether your period is normal or not, schedule an appointment with her today.