10 December 2019

What your period says about you

Doctor
Medical Director
Cesar Diaz-Garcia
MD PhD Assoc Prof
IVI London

 

Your menstrual cycle can say a lot about your health. Whilst in most cases irregular periods aren’t anything serious, there are occasions where they can signal health problems.

 

What is your period?

Your period is one of the stages your body goes through during its monthly menstrual cycle. Each month, your body prepares itself for pregnancy. At the beginning of the cycle, an egg is released from one of your ovaries, this is called ovulation. At the same time, your body also prepares the wall of the uterus ready for a fertilised egg to implant. If the egg is not fertilized the lining of the uterus will break down and exit your body through the vagina. This is known as menstrual bleeding aka your period. 

 

Is your period ‘normal’?

What is normal for you may not be normal for everyone else. You might be regular, irregular, have a heavy flow, a light flow, painful or pain-free, every woman has a different experience when it comes to their periods. For example, the length of your cycle. On average your cycle lasts 28 days, this is from the last day of your period to the first day of your next. However, for some women, it may come earlier/later and can vary between 21 to 35 days and your bleeding can last from 2 to 7 days. 

There are factors that may affect your period. The older you get the shorter and more regular your periods get, however, the closer you get to menopause your period may become irregular. If this happens it is important to speak to a doctor, as this may be an indication of something more severe. Another factor affecting your cycle is hormone contraceptives, which are designed to stop you from getting pregnant and therefore stop you ovulating. You are likely to see this affect your period, again it is important to talk to a doctor as they will be able to tell you what to expect. 

 

Why is my period irregular? 

As mentioned it is not uncommon for periods to be irregular with no health risks at all however, there are several reasons for it to happen. The most obvious one being pregnancy, furthermore, if you decide to breastfeed after giving birth this can delay the return of your period. Whether it is caused by an eating disorder or excessive exercising, a low BMI can cause a hormone imbalance in your body and therefore stop or delay your period. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) and uterine fibroids can also cause irregular periods. 

 

How do I track my period?

The most common thing women track when monitoring their period is the start date. Making a note of the start date every month will determine how regular you are and what is normal for you. However, if you are particularly concerned about your period there are other things you can start making a note of. Firstly, the end date, this will give you an indication of how long your period lasts and whether it is different to normal. The flow: is your period heavier than normal? Are you experiencing more clotting than normal? Are you bleeding between periods? Hormonal or mood changes? It’s not uncommon for you to experience a change in your mood on the run-up to your period however, is this more significant than normal? Lastly, period pains. This can differ massively between women. Some may experience no pain at all whereas others can significantly suffer. It is important to monitor if the pain is different for you. If you are experiencing more painful periods than normal this can sometimes be an indicator of other conditions such as endometriosis

 

When should I seek medical advice? 

If you have been tracking your period for a good few months and have experienced any of the following, it is recommended that you seek medical advice.  

  • Your periods suddenly stop (and you’re not pregnant).
  • Your periods suddenly become erratic when you’re normally relatively regular. 
  • You bleed for more than seven days.
  • Your flow is heavier than normal and you find yourself bleeding through tampons within 2 hours. 
  • Your periods are significantly shorter or longer than normal (not 21 – 35 days).
  • You experience bleeding between periods.
  • You experience a lot more pain than normal.

 

If you are wanting to get pregnant and come to IVI for assistance, one of the first thing the doctor will ask you about will be your period, more specifically how old you were when you started your period and how long your cycle lasts now. This gives a rough indication of where to start their investigation. 

 

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