Periods out of whack? It’s rarely something to worry about. Here’s everything you need to know.
Many people worry endlessly about irregular periods and why they’re experiencing them. But the good news is that there are several reasons for an irregular period and it’s a very common experience. In fact, between *14% and 25% of women have irregular menstrual cycles. If you’ve only just begun menstruating or you’re reaching the end of your menstrual life, you’re very likely to get irregular periods due to changing hormone levels.
With that being said, we know abnormal menstruation is worrying for some people and we’re here to put you at ease. Let’s talk about irregular periods.
Before we dive into the details, it’s important to understand exactly what an irregular period is. Chances are, you’ve been hearing the term ‘irregular period’ for as long as you’ve been menstruating. An irregular period cycle is when the time between each period changes. If there are less than 21 days between each period or more than 35 days, your period is considered irregular. An irregular period can also last longer than 7 days or vary in length from one period to the next.
The best way to figure out if you have an irregular period is to check for symptoms. You may have to observe your body for a few weeks to get a true idea of your cycle length and the difference between regular and irregular menstruation.
The reasons for irregular periods typically vary from person to person. And in some cases, there is more than one cause. As a starting point, you can refer to the list of causes below to see if any of them resonate with you. And of course, the next step is to visit a doctor for a professional diagnosis.
Whether you're experiencing heavy bleeding, painful cramps, or unpredictable cycles, irregular periods can disrupt your daily routine and leave you feeling exhausted. However, there are a variety of treatments available that can help you return to a normal menstrual cycle and alleviate symptoms. The treatment options tend to vary depending on the type of irregularity and your lifestyle.
Irregular periods can easily be managed through lifestyle changes and medical interventions. And in most cases, irregular periods don’t have extremely negative effects on the body. But if you find yourself experiencing ongoing irregularities for several months, it could increase the risk of other health conditions. For example, if you have constant heavy bleeding while on your period then you are more likely to have iron deficiency anaemia.
Long-term irregular periods can also result in anovulation — a type of infertility where the body does not release an egg, causing difficulty getting pregnant. If left untreated, lower oestrogen levels can cause low bone mass, which increases the risk of osteoporosis. If you happen to have irregular periods, pay careful attention to how it might be affecting your body and whether you need medical intervention.
While irregular periods can make it more difficult to predict ovulation and plan for pregnancy, it's important to remember that it's still possible to conceive with an irregular cycle. However, it may take longer to fall pregnant in comparison to those with regular periods.
Irregular periods can also be a sign of underlying health issues such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid problems, which can affect fertility. Therefore, if you have irregular periods and are trying to conceive, it's important to speak with your healthcare provider or gynaecologist to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment. By staying proactive and seeking medical advice, you can successfully navigate pregnancy and achieve your dreams of starting a family.
Many people report having irregular periods after birth. Following childbirth, your hormonal levels will take a while to return to normal, which can in turn impact menstrual cycles. At this time, the body is typically left with high levels of the hormones progesterone and oestrogen, which helped to support the growing foetus. After birth, these hormone levels drop rapidly, which can cause irregular bleeding or spotting as the body adjusts.
Breastfeeding can affect your hormones which subsequently effects the regularity of your period. This means that many breastfeeding people don’t have a regular period for several months. The hormone that causes the production of milk, prolactin, can also stop you from ovulating and having your period. In some cases, it can take a year for your period to return which isn’t a cause for concern. In the meantime, if wish to regulate your period while breastfeeding, your healthcare provider can prescribe contraceptives. It is safe to take birth control pills and most other hormonal contraceptives while breastfeeding.
Irregular periods are normal if you happen to be on birth control or pregnant. There are also plenty of common health conditions such as stress that could result in irregular periods. Our bodies are all a little different, and while some menstruators might be able to predict the start of their period to the millisecond, others have periods that are a little less than punctual.
However, if irregular periods have been an ongoing issue for you or you’re concerned that this may be a symptom of a more serious health issue, don’t hesitate to see your doctor for peace of mind.
* https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/menstruation/conditioninfo/irregularities [Accessed: 14 February 2023]
The most common reasons why you may have irregular periods include puberty, menopause, pregnancy, hormonal contraception and health conditions that affect your hormones.
Irregular menstrual periods do not necessarily mean infertility. Although it might take longer, you can still fall pregnant and have a healthy pregnancy.
Irregular periods do not typically cause infertility, but can be an indication of an underlying medical condition such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which affects fertility in some cases.
Stress can cause irregular periods. When you’re stressed, it can affect the production of hormones such as oestrogen and progesterone which are responsible for controlling the menstrual cycle. These hormonal imbalances can also make your periods more painful.
Irregular periods are characterised by a significant variation in the time gap between each period. This sometimes includes noticeable changes in how heavy or light your flow is each cycle. This means you have abnormal uterine bleeding.
You can get pregnant even with an irregular period when you are ovulating. This is the time in your menstrual cycle when a mature egg is released from the ovary, ready to be fertilised by a sperm cell. However, when someone has an erratic cycle it can make predicting ovulation a little more difficult and you may want to use an ovulation kit to help you identify your fertile window.
Anaemia can cause irregular periods in some cases. When you have anaemia, it means you are iron deficient and your blood lacks red blood cells which transport oxygen. Without sufficient oxygen, the uterus might not function properly, affecting one’s usual period cycle.
Uterine fibroids can cause irregular periods by stimulating the growth of blood vessels. This potentially contributes to a heavier flow or spotting between periods. Fibroids also increase the level of prostaglandin hormones in the body which are known to contribute to heavy bleeding.
You can get pregnant with irregular periods if you are still ovulating. However, it might be more difficult to predict the timing of ovulation and try for a baby at the right time. This means it can take longer for people with irregular periods to fall pregnant.
Irregular periods don’t necessarily affect pregnancy, but they affect your ability to fall pregnant. This is because ovulation becomes less predictable when you have irregular periods.
Irregular periods are normal while breastfeeding, especially if you are still producing milk/lactating. This is due to the hormonal changes in the body that occur while breastfeeding. Most notably, there is an increase in prolactin — the milk-production hormone.
Irregular periods are not a definite sign of cancer. However, they might increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Women with menstrual irregularities are more likely to develop ovarian cancer.
In most cases, irregular periods are not dangerous. Nevertheless, if your periods suddenly become irregular or start to affect your quality of life, seek medical advice from a health professional.
Irregular periods cannot directly cause weight gain, but they can contribute to other conditions such as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which typically affects your appetite. This could lead to weight gain in the long run. Endometriosis and PCOS which often impact the menstrual cycle can sometimes cause weight gain which is just one of their symptoms.
Irregular periods can cause an imbalance in oestrogen and progesterone hormones which can lead to bloating, particularly in the abdominal area.