There’s nothing to worry about if your menstrual cycle is irregular from time to time. But do you know when you should already be concerned and keep a watchful eye?
The menstrual cycle isn’t always like clockwork. Some women get their periods right on schedule every 28 days, others have difficulty predicting theirs. Irregular cycles usually shouldn’t cause you to be worried, but sometimes they’re telling you that you have a reproductive health problem.
So, what is considered irregular?
The average menstrual cycle usually lasts 28 days, but it can vary from 21 to 35 days. Irregular bleeding commonly occurs especially when girls first begin menstruation after puberty, but their cycles eventually become more regular and predictable as they grow older. Menstrual bleeding lasts five days on average, but can go from two to seven days.
Periods become irregular if they occur in less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, or the bleeding lasts longer than seven days. Irregular cycles can also be identified by missed periods, heavier or lighter bleeding than normal, and constant spotting.
To determine the length of your menstrual cycle, count the number of days from the last day of your previous to the first day of your next period. The number of days between each period is the length of your menstrual cycle. Is your cycle consistent or does it seem irregular? If the intervals between your periods vary significantly each month, you may have an irregular cycle.
Then, let’s see what are the causes of irregular periods?
Irregular cycles can be caused by a number of things ranging from stress to underlying medical conditions:
- Puberty and menopause. It’s normal to experience hormone imbalances for a few years after puberty and before menopause. This can make your menstrual cycle longer or shorter, and your bleeding lighter or heavier.
- Contraception. Contraceptives can affect the menstrual cycle when you start using a method. Pills can make periods lighter, irregular, or more frequent, while injectables can make some women completely stop menstruating while they’re using the method. The copper IUD can sometimes cause heavier, longer periods. Getting off contraceptives also affect menstruation. Some may experience irregular or missed periods for up to six months. It’s important to note that these side effects do not happen to all women, and they usually last for only the first few months. Give your body some time to adjust to contraception.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding. A missed period may be a sign of pregnancy (especially if you had unprotected sex). Breastfeeding can also delay the return of menstruation after giving birth.
- Lifestyle. Stress, significant amount of weight gain or loss, diet, changes in workout routines, travel, illnesses, or other disruptions to a woman’s daily routine can affect the menstrual cycle.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). When a woman has PCOS, the ovaries produce excessive amounts of androgens (a male hormone) and cause tiny cysts to form on the ovaries. The hormonal changes prevent egg cells from maturing, which interferes with regular ovulation, and result in irregular periods.
- Thyroid disorders. Although they are rare, they can cause irregular periods. The thyroid gland is located in the neck, and it produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. Menstrual irregularities occur when the blood levels of the thyroid hormone go too low or too high.
- Other causes. Aside from the factors previously mentioned, other causes that aren’t so common are uterine or cervical cancer, medications such as steroids, pregnancy complications, sexually transmitted infection, diabetes, uterine fibroids, or endometriosis.
So, what do I do if I have irregular periods?
Irregular periods may not always need treatment, but it will depend on the underlying causes. It’s best to consult your healthcare provider if:
- you have frequent bleeding or spotting between periods or after sex
- you have severe pain during or before your periods.
- your periods are unusually heavy, where you need to change your tampon or pad every hour or two, or you have to wear both a pad and a tampon
- heavy bleeding floods into your bed or through your clothes
- periods last longer than seven days
- 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 irregular periods are already affecting your daily activities, it’s best to have it consulted. Your menstrual cycle may be naturally irregular, but it’s also possible that there’s an underlying cause that may need medical attention. If that’s the case, proper diagnosis, and treatment can help put your cycle back on track.