Does the duration between your periods vary? What about the extent of the period itself? Has it changed dramatically? Is the volume of blood discharged different from usual?
If you answered in the affirmative to any of these questions, you could be experiencing irregular menstrual periods.
It is quite normal for girls who have just reached puberty and older ladies who are nearing menopause to experience irregular periods. These two groups are susceptible because the hormone levels in their bodies are changing, particularly oestrogen and progesterone.
Other reasons for a woman to experience irregular periods include:
• Hormonal levels affected by changes in the hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, ovary or adrenal glands
• Genetic disorders, such as gonadal dysgenesis, Turner syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, androgen insensitivity and polycystic ovarian syndrome
• Abnormalities in the reproductive system, such as pregnancy, endometriosis, cancer, uterine fibroids and thickening of polyps on the uterine lining
• Change in contraception method
• The effect of certain contraceptives and drugs
• Drastic lifestyle changes, such as excessive exercising, huge weight gain or loss, eating disorders and stressDon’t panic if you suspect you have irregular periods, because it can happen due to your lifestyle choices. Perhaps you intend to take part in a marathon and have been training intensely? That can trigger irregular periods.Massive changes in weight can bring about irregular periods.
On a yo-yo diet? Fluctuations in weight are also a potential cause. So going back to a healthy, balanced lifestyle could sort this problem out by itself.
However, you should have a doctor look into your condition if you have any of the following symptoms:
• Three or more periods missed in the past year
• Period arrives more often than every 21 days
• Period arrives less often than every 35 days
• Bleeding more heavily than usual during a cycle
• Bleeding for more than seven days a cycle
• Experience more pain than usual during a period
Let’s focus on three particular causes of irregular periods.
1. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
In this disorder, a woman secretes an abundance of the male hormone androgen. According to HealthXchange, 4% to 7% of women of reproductive age suffer from it.
Besides irregular periods, a woman with PCOS will develop male characteristics like:
• Deepening of the voice
• Increased body hair
• Male pattern hair loss
She could also develop:
• High blood pressure
• Elevated cholesterol levels
2. EndometriosisYou may not realise it, but excessive exercise can also affect menstrual regularity.
This condition occurs when the lining of the womb appears in other parts of the body, usually:
• Inside the pelvic area and attached to the ovaries
• The ligaments behind the womb
• The tissue layer lining the pelvis
• The bladder and ureters or the bowel
Like cancer, there are four stages in endometriosis, with Stage One referring to a minimal amount, and Stage Four a severe amount.
Irregular periods aside, a woman with endometriosis usually suffers from pelvic pain. Sometimes, the pain can be chronic. There might be pain during or after sex, and when passing motion. She may also have some fertility problems.
However, the only way to confirm this condition is via diagnostic keyhole surgery, although an ultrasound can sometimes detect endometriotic cysts in the ovaries, while an experienced doctor may also detect it in other areas.
One important piece of advice women should heed is to take note when there is pain in the pelvic region. This is because the average age that endometriosis is confirmed is around 28 years, while the average age the pain symptoms occur is around 20 years – eight years of pain could cause a lot of damage.
Uterine fibroids are the most common growth of the female reproductive system. About 20% of women will get it during their reproductive life. Luckily, these growths are usually benign. They can grow as a single lump or in multiples, and vary in size. They usually strike women in their 30s and 40s, and are usually linked to female hormones. They also seem to run in families.
The larger the growths, the more symptoms the woman will manifest. Besides irregular periods, other symptoms may include:
• Bloating or discomfort around the abdomen
• Lower back pain
• Pain during sex
• Difficulty in urination or frequent urination
The above is not meant to replace a visit to the clinic. Don’t let embarrassment stop you from getting your irregular periods looked at.