What are Irregular Periods?
Your menstrual cycle is as unique as you are and what is a normal cycle to you may be different from what is normal to another woman. If your menstrual cycle is anything between 24-35 days, and the average length of your period is between 2-8 days, then you have a normal cycle and you don’t have to worry a bit.
Once you are past puberty, your menstrual cycle becomes regular and you can predict when you are likely to have your next period and how many days your bleeding would last. For some women, their prediction is always right; their flow starts at the same time every month. For others, their periods may come a few days early or late. That’s also normal.
However, if you observe that the time between your periods from one month to the other is largely inconsistent, the blood you lose is more or less than usual and the length of your bleeding days varies a lot, then you may need to see your doctor. This is called irregular periods. If you have irregular periods, your period may not show up at all in a certain month without you being pregnant or it may show up earlier than you expect.
Irregular periods do not always mean that something is wrong somewhere, but there are times when they can be a sign of a serious health condition. It’s therefore always best to check with your doctor to be sure that your irregular periods are not symptoms of another health problem you are not aware of.
If you are trying to have a baby, irregular periods are a thing to be concerned about because they are a sign that you may not be ovulating every month. Ovulation problems are one of the causes of infertility. If you do not ovulate every month, it may be harder for you to get pregnant.
Causes of Irregular Periods
Your menstrual cycle is controlled by the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Any changes in the levels of these hormones in your body can disrupt your normal cycle. Factors that can affect these hormones include:
When you are overly stressed out or anxious, stress hormones are released in your body. These hormones affect the production of the hormones that control your cycle, causing you to have a missed or late period.
Engaging in moderate exercise is helpful with warding off stress and keeping you healthy and strong. However, if you exercise too much, your hormones are likely to get disrupted. Your periods may not show up at all, and if it does, it may be too light or sparse. Your flow may become similar to spotting. Excessive exercise can hinder fertility, especially in women with normal weight.
Pregnancy or Breastfeeding
A missed period is often the first sign of pregnancy. It is best to check that you are not pregnant if your period does not show up. Breastfeeding can also delay your periods for a few months. It may reduce or increase your bleeding days and cause you to skip periods.
Uterine fibroids are tumors that grow in or on the uterus. They can cause changes in bleeding days and period pattern. You may experience unusually painful periods and heavy bleeding if you have uterine fibroids.
Hormonal birth control like intrauterine device (IUD), vaginal ring and the pill, as well as emergency contraceptives can cause infrequent periods. They can make your periods lighter, heavier, shorter or longer. Your periods may also not show up at all if you are using any of these contraceptive methods. These changes occur especially in the first few months of using these birth control methods.
Certain medications like antidepressants, anticoagulants (blood thinners) and anti-psychotics can lead to irregular periods. Other drugs that can affect your period include aspirin, naproxen and ibuprofen. Anti-epilepsy drugs and anti-cancer drugs may also have the same effect. These drugs can make your periods lighter, heavier or longer than usual.
Thyroid Disorder (Overactive or Underactive Thyroid)
Thyroid disorders are common in women than men. Thyroid hormones are vital to your reproductive health. If the thyroid hormones in your body are insufficient or excess, it can lead to irregular periods, heavy bleeding or bleeding with large clots. You periods may also not show up at all. Selenium-rich foods as well as a diet rich in iodine can help to prevent thyroid disorders.
Significant Change in Weight
Gaining too much weight as well as losing too much weight either from extreme dieting, excessive exercise or an illness like diabetes, can disrupt your hormonal balance. Unhealthy eating habit also has the same effect on your body.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD)
If you become infected with sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea, you may experience heavier bleeding and unusual pain during your periods. Your periods may also last longer than usual. Using condoms reduces your risk of sexually transmitted diseases.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
This is a condition known to cause infertility in women. Women who have PCOS have very high levels of the male sex hormone. This condition affects about 10-20% of women of childbearing age in the United States. PCOS causes irregular periods and is also associated with other health problems. PCOS is a condition where cysts form on or in the ovaries, hindering ovulation. In other words, if a woman has PCOS, she would not ovulate.
Treatment of Irregular Periods
If you have irregular periods, it does not necessarily mean that you may be sick. This condition is not an illness in itself, but sometimes, it may be a symptom of another condition. It’s always good to see your doctor, even if you are not concerned about it.
Your doctor would help determine the cause of the condition, and once the cause has been identified, the right treatment would be administered. Treatment of irregular periods may come in form of surgery, medications or lifestyle modifications.
Some of the lifestyle modifications you can make to help to treat irregular periods include:
- Managing stress: Stress cannot be avoided but they can be managed. Stress management involves practicing positive coping mechanisms which would help to make sure that stress does not get the better part of you.
- Not engaging in too much of vigorous or strenuous exercises: If you have a normal weight, then you should not exercise excessively. You should also not engage in too much of vigorous and strenuous exercises. Women who are overweight or obese would benefit more from these exercises than women of normal weight.
- Eating healthy foods: As much as you want to keep fit, do not go overboard with dieting. Who says your health should pay the price for fitness? One of the ways you can eat healthier is to ensure that most of the things you eat are foods you prepare at home. Processed and packaged foods are very high in sugar, salt and fat. These foods have also been stripped of their nutrients and so they do not have much nutritional value to offer you.
There are homemade remedies you can try to help treat irregular periods. Mugwort oil is known to help with menstrual problems. It can give you relief from menstrual cramps. Rhodiola, a type of plant, can also be beneficial for your reproductive health. The plant helps to reduce body fat and support weight loss. It can also help to ease physical and mental fatigue. Stone root, also a kind of herb can help to reduce stress and anxiety.
It would be helpful to track your period if you have not been doing so. Tracking your periods makes it easier for you to detect when there is a change in your menstrual cycle. It is possible for you to track your periods manually with a calendar, but there are a number of apps that have made period tracking easier for women. Once you download any of these apps, all the information you need about your menstrual cycle would be at your fingertips.