Irregular periods: Why they happen and how to treat them.
Each woman experiences her period in her own unique way. Some women may have periods that arrive on time like clockwork while some periods can be unpredictable. On average, a woman experiences her menstrual period every 24 to 28 days and it can last from 2 to 8 days. However what determines irregular periods is how frequent the menstrual bleeding occurs or how much longer it lasts than 8 days. If your menstrual bleeding occurs often in less than 21 days or lasts longer than 8 days, then you might be experiencing irregular periods. Other signs of an irregular period are heavy bleeding (loss of more blood than normal), less blood flow than normal, or a missed, early or late period.
To determine if you experience an irregular period, starting counting the days between menstrual cycles. Begin with the last day of a cycle and end with the first day of the next cycle. Keep track of this for at least 3 months. If there is a significant difference between the numbers of days between each period then you are experiencing irregular periods.
Is it unhealthy to have an irregular menstrual cycle?
Since an average complete menstrual cycle is considered to fall in between 21 to 35 days, cycles lasting shorter or longer can be categorized as irregular. Thirty percent of women go through irregular periods at some points in their lives. Irregular periods may be caused by a variety of things that you don’t necessarily need to see a doctor about. What is important, however, is for you to determine the cause of the irregular menstrual bleeding before deciding if it’s unhealthy or not.
What can cause irregular periods?
There are many factors that can trigger irregular, early or missed periods.
- Too much exercise or dieting – This is common among endurance athletes. While it is healthy to be physically active, too much exercise can change the cycle of your period or could stop it altogether. Losing too much weight rapidly from extreme exercise, dieting or illness can also trigger this effect.
- Stress – Stress is one of the major causes of irregular periods among young women. Chronic stress or anxiety can cause disruptions in your hormone system thereby triggering a missed period or irregular periods.
- Weight gain – Your body weight also helps dictate your hormone levels. Rapidly losing or gaining weight affects hormone production which can cause irregular periods.
- Contraceptive Pill – Oral contraceptive pills or birth control pills can also cause you to miss periods and render your cycle irregular. It can also make the periods lighter or stop them completely.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – This is a hormonal disorder that causes your body to produce more androgen (‘male hormones’) at a higher rate than normal. These hormonal imbalances can trigger irregular periods causing you to skip periods and could even make it difficult to get pregnant. If you are having irregular periods, it is important to see a doctor and determine if PCOS is the causative factor.
- Other disorders – One such syndrome could be a thyroid disorder. This can trigger irregular periods when the blood levels of the hormone get too high or too low. There are other health conditions like eating disorders, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and diabetes that can trigger irregular periods.
- Irregular sleep patterns – The amount of sleep you get each night can affect your hormones. When you sleep, your body uses the time to repair itself. The irregularity of your sleep cycle can trigger irregular periods since it affects hormone leptin which then affects ovulation. So to maintain regular cycle or hormone balance, it is a good idea to keep your sleep cycle regular as well. Eight to ten hours of sleep each night are recommended for young women by most healthcare providers.
- Age – When you are first starting your period as a teenager, it may not be on the same schedule every month. It may take a while, even up to several years, for it to settle into a particular pattern. This also happens for women as they near menopause. They might experience missed, lighter or heavier periods than normal. These are likely to be nothing to worry about.
- Other factors that can trigger irregular bleeding or heavy periods include having an Intrauterine device (IUD), being pregnant, breastfeeding, having thickening of the uterine lining or uterine fibroids.
Does endometriosis cause irregular periods?
Yes! The first and foremost symptom of this condition is irregular periods. Endometriosis occurs when the tissues found on the lining of the uterus spread to other parts of the reproductive system causing inflammation and pain. Women who have this condition can experience severe abdominal pains and irregular periods. At the moment, endometriosis can only be diagnosed through exploratory surgery. So if you think you might have this condition, please see a gynecologist immediately for proper medical advice and treatment.
Do irregular menstrual periods affect female fertility?
It is possible that an irregular menstrual cycle can affect female fertility. Experiencing irregular periods can make it difficult for you to get pregnant. (Especially if you are someone who does not ovulate every month.) See your doctor to run tests to determine if you are ovulating. If you are trying to conceive and you are experiencing irregular periods, your doctor can prescribe fertility drugs to increase ovulation. It can still be possible to get pregnant while having an irregular period, but it is important to also consult with your doctor.
Treatment and prevention of Irregular Periods
After reading this article, you should now have an idea of what is the likely cause of your irregular menstrual cycle. If you think stress is the reason why you experience irregular periods, try different stress management techniques. That could be activities like tai chi or yoga, or mindfulness methods like visualization or meditation. Taking steps to organise your life and remove or reduce mental and emotional stressors can drastically improve your physical health.
Be careful of how long and how often you are exercising. Do not put yourself under extreme dieting methods as doing so can trigger an irregular menstrual cycle. It is also important to have a quality rest each night and maintain a regular sleep schedule. Irregular sleep patterns are trigger irregular periods.
Cyclic progesterone therapy might be administered by your doctor. It involves treatment with the naturally occurring progesterone hormone to treat your irregular menstrual cycle. This oral micronized progesterone treatment is done to mimic the normal pattern and amount in the menstrual cycle.
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common cause of irregular periods, your doctor might prescribe a contraceptive (birth control) pill or other hormonal treatments. The goal of this treatment is to eradicate the hormonal imbalance and halting an irregular menstrual cycle. If the irregularity is caused by polyps or uterine fibroids, then a gynecologist might have to conduct a surgical removal of them.
How can women overcome irregular periods through natural remedies?
If you want to use a natural treatment for irregular periods, consider black cohosh. This is a flowering plant found in some parts of Canada and the United States. It is a perennial plant that produces white flowers from June to September. The name is derived from its black roots which are believed to have healing properties. The black cohosh root has been used for the treatment of many medical conditions including menstrual cramps, menopause, kidney issues, uterus issues, malaria and labor pains.
Although scientific studies are yet to verify its healing properties, this medicinal herb is used to treat most menstrual irregularities. However, people with symptoms or history of the liver disease are warned against using this herb. To use this medicinal herb, the roots are dried and made as teas or liquid extracts stored in capsule form. Sometimes, it can also be used as an ingredient in a herbal mixture.
You can also purchase supplements which contain the black cohosh as a concentrated liquid or in pill form. This is available at most drug stores or via online.
Having a few irregular periods, like 2 or 3 in a year, are usually nothing to worry about. However, if it occurs more frequently, you should see your doctor to determine the causative factor. You want to be sure that it is not an ovulation disorder or a health condition. Whenever you have irregular periods, especially a missed period, the first thing you should do is to rule out pregnancy. Take a pregnancy test if you have had heterosexual intercourse in the past month. If the test comes out negative, then you should examine what other factors could be causing it. Examine your lifestyle, stress levels, and any recent weight gain or loss. Then talk to your doctor to discuss how best to get your menstrual cycle back on track.