We all know that periods happen once a month, last 7 days, rinse and repeat the next month, right? Not for all women.
You should have regular periods unless you are pregnant, breastfeeding, postmenopausal, or have a medical condition that causes your periods to stop. Irregular, painful, or heavy periods may be signs of a serious health problem. Irregular periods also can make it harder to get pregnant.
Your menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of your last period to the start of your next period. Your period is considered irregular if it’s longer than 38 days or if the duration varies.
“A woman should really be tracking her own menstrual cycle, because it provides huge numbers of clues about whether something’s not right,” says Frances Ginsburg, MD, director of reproductive endocrinology at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Conn., and assistant professor of clinical obstetrics/gynecology in the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Changes in your period’s color, flow and regularity can be an indication of a problem. It can be an indication of hormone imbalances, stress, Endometriosis, Polycystic Overian Syndrome and even cancer.
Here are some signs to watch for.
Flow color change
The truth of the matter is this: periods matter. They matter so much, in fact, that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has declared menstruation a vital sign. The appearance, frequency, and consistency of your menstrual blood provides invaluable clues into your overall health, and if you want to finally banish symptoms and feel amazing, it’s time to get familiar with your flow.
Think of checking your flow every month like being able to access free lab work for your hormone levels. Knowing the color tells you which hormones are in and out of balance and if your eating is synced with your hormones. Your period provides genius (and free!) biofeedback for you.
Fresh blood at the beginning of your period is usually bright red. A heavy flow could be darker, especially with clots. Rusty brown blood is older; what you’ll typically see toward the end of the week because the air has had a chance to react with it. Pinkish is probably just a light period.
For more information on the color of your menstrual blood, here’s a great article.
Bleeding between periods
Growths in and around your uterus (such as endometriosis, fibroids, or polyps), problems with your hormones or the type of birth control pill you’re using, and STDs (including chlamydia and gonorrhea) can be responsible for blood showing up during the off-season. Some women will even spot a little bit 10-14 days after they get pregnant. Since it could be so many things, you should talk to your doctor.
The most common cause is pregnancy, but stress, a hormone imbalance, being underweight, scar tissue, and some meds can also stop periods. If you’ve skipped three in a row, see your doctor. Other symptoms you have will help them figure out what’s going on. For example, extra hair growth, acne, and trouble controlling your weight, too, suggest polycystic ovary syndrome. And it’s not unusual to be irregular when you’re close to menopause.
About a third of women complain to their gynecologist about it. “Heavy” means changing your tampon or pad every hour or so or during the night, having periods that last for more than a week, or passing blood clots bigger than a quarter. Problems with your reproductive organs or hormones, an infection like pelvic inflammatory disease, some blood disorders, blood-thinning medicines (including aspirin), or a copper IUD are possible causes.
When you lose blood through heavy periods, you’re losing red blood cells, and that can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. One study found 5% of women of childbearing age are affected. If you’re short of breath, feeling weak and fatigued, look pale, and have a rapid heartbeat, too, let your doctor know. A simple blood test can tell you if you need treatment.
More than half of menstruating women hurt in their low belly, thighs, or back for a day or two every month, just before or as the bleeding starts. Some women also feel queasy and tired or have diarrhea. Blame cramps (or primary dysmenorrhea) on the muscle contractions of your uterus as it tightens and relaxes to get rid of the lining. Fortunately, these tend to get better as you get older, and they may stop after you have a baby.
Some cramps start earlier in your cycle and last longer. And you generally don’t feel sick in any other way because of them. These aren’t normal. The lining of your uterus may be growing where it shouldn’t (endometriosis or adenomyosis), you may have fibroids (noncancerous growths in your uterus), or you could have pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection that can lead to infertility and long-term pain.
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, midwife, certified nutritionist or naturopath. I am not qualified to give medical advice and the following should not be viewed as such. You should always discuss medical questions and concerns with your doctor!
Make sure you grab a copy of my FREE guide 5 Steps To Increase Your Fertile Cervical Mucus & my FREE Self-Care Mini Course. You can access either one by clicking on the title. These are packed full of information that you can begin implementing today to put yourself one step closer to getting pregnant, naturally.
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