For something that women endure for the majority of their lives, I find that so many women who come and see me go years with unanswered questions about their periods. From small questions to big worries, if you don’t know something about what is happening with your menstrual cycle, you’re not alone. I find that the most common questions, however, are concerns about irregular periods. Normal Varies
Because every woman’s period is different, people often ask me about what qualifies as a “regular” period. Typically, the menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but a 21-day cycle, plus or minus seven days, is normal as well. If menstrual bleeding occurs more frequently than every 21 days, or lasts longer than eight days, this is considered irregular. It is also considered irregular if your periods come early, late or are missed completely. It is considered abnormal if your period is accompanied by severe pain, cramping, nausea or vomiting.
Our bodies are in such delicate balance that sometimes the smallest thing can throw them off. This is true of your menstrual cycle, too. Stress, gaining weight, losing weight, changing your diet, illness and even travel can affect your cycle. Other things that can affect your menstrual cycle are birth control pills, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, premature ovarian insufficiency, pelvic inflammatory disease, certain medications, bleeding disorders, uterine polyps or fibroids, certain types of cancers, miscarriage and pregnancy complications. Problems with the thyroid or pituitary gland may also cause irregular cycles. Keeping all of this in mind, make sure to avoid self-diagnosis.
When to Consult a Gynecologist
It’s important to remember that because so many factors can contribute to an irregular period, there’s no need to panic if things seem off with your menstrual cycle. If you have any questions, the best thing to do is make an appointment with your gynecologist. The general rule of thumb is to see your doctor if you:
- Have a high fever.
- Think you might be pregnant.
- Are experiencing severe pain during your period or between periods.
- Notice unusually heavy bleeding, such as soaking through a pad or tampon every hour for several hours, or are passing large clots.
- Experience abnormal or bad-smelling discharge.
- Have a period that lasts longer than eight days.
- Miss a period.
- Notice irregular periods after having regular periods.
- Have vaginal bleeding after you have gone through menopause.
These might be symptoms that need to be addressed by your physician, so getting checked out is the best thing to do. It will give you peace of mind and will allow your doctor to help get you back on the right track.
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Dr. Earl Lombard II is a board-certified Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus and Meyerland Plaza Clinic. His clinical interests include minimally invasive surgery, infertility evaluation, contraception, high-risk obstetrics, menopause and disorders of the cervix, vulva and perineum.