Understanding Irregular Periods
Irregular periods can be triggered by a myriad of factors, such as age, the medications you are taking, medical conditions, and even certain lifestyle choices.
Understanding irregular periods is an essential step women can take to first recognize the pattern in their cycle, and spot the signs that could indicate that a visit to your gynecologist might be necessary.
As you might already know, the average menstrual cycle results in a period every 28 days. But many women do not fall under the "average" category and can experience a period between 21 to 35 days, which can also last as little as 2 days to even a full week.
What an Irregular Cycle Looks Like
A period is considered irregular when the period is early, late, missed, or even when it occurs more frequently. The patterns of irregularities can vary:
- Adolescents - cycles outside the 21-45 day range;
- Adults - cycles outside the 24-38 day range;
- Adults - cycles that vary in length by more than a week (such as having a 24-day cycle Month A, then a 40-day cycle Month B)
To know if your period is irregular, you must first keep track of your cycle. Count the number of days that pass between the first day of your previous period until the first day of your next, and keep this record for a few months. You can write it down on a piece of paper, or even turn to an app specifically designed for period tracking.
Note that in some period irregularities, your period can also stop for 90 or more days, without having a potential explanation for it, such as pregnancy, menopause, or medication.
Causes of Irregular Periods
1. Exercise and Diet
Exercise and diet fall into the "lifestyle choice" factor that can lead to irregular periods. Those who exercise extensively are likely to experience irregular periods as the workout can affect your metabolism. A lot of athletes, for example, who routinely exercise can often have this period side-effect, and even experience a total stop in getting their period.
Additionally, poor nutrition caused by extreme dieting can have a similar effect. It’s common for underweight women to struggle with their periods, as they can become irregular or stop.
High levels of stress or even anxiety can affect your hormonal balance, which could lead to even temporary irregular periods. You might experience a cycle delay or even experience spotting in between periods.
Lack of sleep, which can happen as a result of sleep disorders, shift work that makes you switch activity patterns from night to day, or even long-distance travels can also lead to period irregularities.
When you don’t sleep properly, your body will produce higher levels of cortisol, which can even lead to a missed period.
4. Birth Control
Taking birth control involves introducing additional hormones into your body, which could lead to some period chances.
People can often experience lighter or shorter periods, but in some cases, birth control can also lead to skipped periods.
The most common cause for late periods in sexually active adults is pregnancy. If you are pregnant, your body will produce a higher level of a hormone called progestin, which will suppress ovulation and lead to no periods throughout the pregnancy.
Irregular periods can also be a symptom of other medical conditions, such as thyroid disorder, STDs, diabetes, or endometrial cancer.
Why It Matters
While it’s common to experience some irregularities in the first 2-3 years once you get your period, irregularities in adults are usually a good sign that something else is going on.
When You Should Talk to a Gynecologist
As you begin to track your cycle more closely, you should also watch out for additional symptoms.
For instance, if the irregular period is followed by heavy bleeding once you do get your period, and you are having to change your tampon or pad every two hours, this is a sign of excessive bleeding, and you should contact your doctor right away.
Some irregular periods might also be accompanied by additional symptoms, like having lots of abdominal pain, fever, or having a strange fluid secretion with a strong smell. These can be signs of infection and require medical attention as soon as possible.
To put your mind at ease and find out the cause of your irregular period, contact an OB/GYN who will provide you with the best medical care possible.
At Colorado Obstetrics & Women’s Health, we are committed to helping you achieve your best health. Contact us at (719) 634-8800 to schedule an appointment.