Irregular periods

Menstrual cycle isn’t always regular and consistent. Some women get their periods right on schedule every 28 (±7) days, while other women’s cycles fluctuate unpredictably. Although fluctuation in itself is usually not a problem, there are known conditions and complications associated with irregular menstrual cycles. In this case, you should seek professional medical advice.

Causes of Irregular Periods

A combination of lifestyle and medical conditions can influence your menstrual cycle.  In many cases, irregular periods are related to a condition called anovulation, when an egg (ovum) doesn’t release from your ovary during your menstrual cycle. Sometimes an irregular period may be due to subtle hormone imbalances.

The following factors can trigger irregular or missed periods:

  • Extreme exercise or dieting – Exercising too much can throw off the timing of menstrual bleeding and sometimes stop it. Being underweight, whether from extreme exercise, dieting, an eating disorder, or illness, can also affect menstrual cycle.
  • Stress – Persisting anxiety or short bout of stress can wreak havoc with your hormonal balance, subsequently contributing to missed periods and or irregular cycles.
  • Contraceptive pill
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – This medical condition causes tiny cysts to form on ovaries, interfering with regular ovulation. Women with PCOS usually have a history of irregular periods.
  • Other illnesses – Thyroid disorders can cause irregular periods if blood levels of the thyroid hormone go too low or too high.
  • Age – When teenagers first start having periods, their menstrual cycles may not always be on the same schedule every month. It may take several years to settle into a pattern. In addition, missed periods and lighter or heavier periods are common for women at the start of menopause (usually between the ages of 45 and 55).

When Should You Be Concerned About an Irregular Period?

You should see a GP if:

  • your periods suddenly become irregular and you’re under 45
  • you have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days
  • your periods last longer than 7 days
  • there’s a big difference (at least 20 days) between your shortest and longest menstrual cycle
  • you have irregular periods and you’re struggling to get pregnant

There might not be anything wrong, but it’s a good idea to get checked out to see what the cause might be.

You might be referred to a specialist called a gynecologist if you need any tests or treatment.

Prevention and Treatment of Irregular Periods

If stress is a possible culprit in your irregular cycle, try stress management techniques, such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, visualization, and biofeedback. Avoid over-exercising and try not to diet excessively, as doing so can interfere with your menstrual cycle.

A couple of irregular periods per year are usually nothing to worry about. Any more than that, and you should see a doctor to be sure an ovulation problem or health condition isn’t the cause.

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