Going Deeper, Weird & Wonderful : The Facts about Irregular Cycle
If your menstrual cycle is irregular from time to time, it's probably no big deal. But do you know how to tell if you have reason to be concerned? Your menstrual cycle isn’t always like clockwork.Reading Time: 3 minutes
While some women get their periods right on schedule every 28 days, other women’s cycles aren’t so predictable. While most of the time irregular cycles is not something to be worried about, it can be a sign of a reproductive health problem.
So, what is considered irregular?
On average, a woman’s menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but cycles can vary from 21 to 35 days. When girls first begin menstruating after puberty, irregular bleeding is fairly common, but most women will develop a regular menstrual cycle, with around the same length of time between periods. Menstrual bleeding usually lasts two to seven days, with the average being five days.
Periods are considered irregular if they occur less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, or last longer than 7 days. Missed periods, heavier or lighter bleeding than normal, and constant spotting are also considered signs of an irregular cycle.
To determine the length of your menstrual cycle and whether it is irregular, count from the last day of your previous period and stop counting on the first day of your next period. Repeat this for three months. The amount of days between each period is the length of your menstrual cycle. If the number of days between stopping and starting your period is significantly different each month, you may have an irregular cycle.
Then, let’s see what are the causes of irregular periods?
There are many reasons that could cause an irregular cycle ranging from stress to underlying medical conditions:
(1) Puberty or Menopause – It’s not unusual to have a hormone imbalance for a few years after puberty and before the menopause. This can cause your menstrual cycle to become longer or shorter. Your periods may also become lighter or heavier.
(2) Contraception – The menstrual cycle can also be disturbed if you change or start a method of contraception. Birth control pills can make your periods lighter, or cause you to miss periods or have less or more frequent periods. The contraceptive injection causes some women to stop menstruating while they are using the method. And the copper IUD can cause heavier, longer bleeding during your period. Discontinuing contraception can also affect menstruation. Some women have irregular periods or miss periods for up to six months after stopping hormonal birth control.
(3) Pregnancy or breast-feeding. A missed period may be a sign of pregnancy (especially if you have had unprotected sex). Breastfeeding can also cause delays for the return of menstruation after giving birth.
(4) Lifestyle factors. Stress, gaining or losing a significant amount of weight, dieting, changes in exercise routines, travel, illness, or other disruptions to a woman’s daily routine can also have an impact on the menstrual cycle.
(5) Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). When a woman has PCOS, the ovaries make large amounts of androgens (which are a type of male hormone) and causes tiny cysts to form on ovaries. The hormonal changes can prevent eggs from maturing which interferes with regular ovulation and therefore can cause irregular periods. Click here to learn more about PCOS.
(6) Thyroid disorders. These are rare, but can cause irregular periods. The thyroid gland, which is found in the neck produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. If blood levels of the thyroid hormone go too low or too high, this can cause menstrual irregularities.
(7) Other causes. Apart from those listed above, some less likely causes could be uterine or cervical cancer, medications such as steroids, complications with pregnancy, a sexually transmitted infection, diabetes, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis.
So, what do I do if I have irregular periods?
Treatment for irregular periods may not always be necessary and depends on the underlying causes for the bleeding. However, you should see your GP if:
- you have frequent bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex
- you have severe pain during or before your periods.
- you have unusually heavy periods, where you need to change your tampon or pad every hour or two, or you have to wear both a pad and a tampon
- you experience heavy bleeding that floods into your bed or through your clothes
- your periods last longer than seven days
- your periods become very irregular after you have had regular cycles.
- You may need a different contraceptive, or further investigations may be needed to find out whether you have an underlying health condition.
If you find that irregular periods are taking over or making day-to-day life difficult, it’s important to visit your doctor for a health check. Although it may be that your cycle is naturally irregular, there could be underlying causes that may need medical attention, which is why seeking a diagnosis is recommended.