Menstruation is an ever present phenomenon in every woman’s life, and a foundation of her functioning reproductive system. With small variations from month to month, menstrual bleeding is rather consistent. Thus, it is not difficult to detect sudden abnormalities. First of all, we need to know what ‘normal’ is. Periods should occur 21-35 days apart, and should not last for longer than 7 days. They should occur regularly on a monthly basis. Although a certain level of discomfort and pain is usually present, it shouldn’t get in the way of our usual everyday activities. The bleeding should occur during the period, and not in between.
Teenage girls usually find their periods rather frenzied and unpredictable, however as the ovaries age, ovulation and menstruation become more and more regular. Once it becomes stable, even the slightest changes will sound an alarm.
What are the changes in our cycle trying to tell us?
- If periods suddenly start lasting longer than usual, it can be a sign of polyps or uterine fibroids, benign changes on the uterine wall. A detailed pelvic checkup and transvaginal ultrasound is advised.
- Large blood clots, size of a coin, usually accompanied by heavy bleeding during periods, point at endometriosis, the disorder where the endometrium – lining of the uterus, grows outside of it and reacts to the secreted hormones the same way as normal endometrium, shedding its lining during a period. Since endometriosis can cause numerous complications, urgent help from a professional is a must.
- Extremely painful periods can be another sign of endometriosis. Certain level of menstrual pain and discomfort is normal, however if it is so severe that it impedes everyday activities, month after month, professional help is needed.
- Spotting between periods or inter-menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than two months can indicate a hormone imbalance or an STD. However, sometimes spotting can simply be caused by stress or sudden weight loss. Anyway, it’s always wiser to get a checkup on time.
- If menstrual blood is too light, our estrogen levels could be too low, preventing the uterine lining to form properly. It is usually accompanied with hair loss, irregular periods and vaginal dryness.
- Absence of menstruation, amenorrhea, unless caused by pregnancy, can occur at times of extreme stress, malnutrition and low fat diet, too much exercise, thyroid disorder or onset of menopause.
- Irregular periods or missed periods could indicate a hormone imbalance caused by polycystic ovaries, particularly if they are accompanied with weight gain, fatigue, increased facial hair, acne, mood swings and abdominal pain. Any absence of menstruation longer than 3 months requires a medical checkup.
- Heavy periods that last longer than 7 days could be a sign of uterine fibroids. Fibroids are caused by hormone imbalance, and although they are benign, they could cause discomfort by, for example, putting too much pressure on the bladder, or triggering extremely heavy bleeding which could lead to anemia.
We live in a world where menstrual disorders are becoming much more common than normal periods. Sadly, our environment is swamped with hormone disruptors which are impossible to avoid. However, there are certain aspects of our lives that we can control: getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and moderately, cutting out alcohol, caffeine, fast food and sugar, maintaining normal weight and having regular medical checkups.
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