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Why is my period irregular?

Why they happen, how to deal, and when to see a doctor

A late period has got to be one of the greatest stresses in this life! If this is something that you have to deal with often, it may be that your menstrual cycle is irregular.

Here, we define irregular periods, outline the reasons why they happen and explain when you should see a medical professional.

A Quick Definition of a Regular Period 

The length of an average menstrual cycle is between 21 and 34 days.  Your period could last between two to five days, but anything up to 10 days is still considered to be within the bounds of ‘normal’. 

Now, On To Irregular Periods 

Chances are, you’ve been hearing the term ‘irregular period’ for as long as you’ve been menstruating. Simply put, an irregular period cycle is when the time between each period changes. More specifically, irregular periods are categorized as bleeding between periods or after having sex, a period that occurs less than nine times a year or a menstrual cycle that lasts less than 21 days. So why do they happen? (Hint: some reasons may surprise you).

Hormones Could Be the Culprit

Before you start searching worst case scenarios on Google, it’s good to know that your period can be disrupted by a number of natural causes. If you’ve only just begun menstruating or are coming to the end of your menstrual life, you’re very likely to get irregular periods due to changing hormone levels. Some forms of medication can also disrupt your cycle, as can changing your hormonal contraception, while pregnancy is another (fairly obvious) culprit. 

Stress is Another Factor

If you’ve been under a lot of stress lately, found yourself over exercising or have suddenly experienced rapid and drastic weight change, your period might very well have skidded to a halt, or got a little spotty. Eating poorly, severe dieting and certain medications can also contribute to irregular periods. Sometimes, there is an underlying health condition that needs seeing to. One of these is PCOS. 

What is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)?

PCOS is a syndrome where your optimum hormone levels are disrupted, causing the body to produce more androgens (male hormones) than normal. This can affect your fertility and increase your risk of health conditions such as diabetes. Its symptoms can vary from person to person, but they can include acne, unwanted facial hair, weight gain and, you guessed it, irregular periods.

Some people find that PCOS also causes them to have very heavier periods. If you suspect that you might have PCOS, or have any of the above symptoms, you should voice your concerns to your doctor, who will do the necessary screening. 

Don’t Panic: PCOS is Manageable

FYI, although scientists have not pinpointed the exact cause of PCOS, there is evidence to suggest that there is a genetic predisposition to the syndrome. While there is no cure, it is a manageable condition, and fertility treatment can improve the odds of falling pregnant.

When You Should See a Doctor

Our bodies are all a little different, and while some menstruators might be able to predict the start of their period to the millisecond, other menstruators are used to periods that are a little less-than-punctual. However, if irregular periods have been an ongoing issue for you, if they’ve suddenly disappeared or got a lot heavier or lighter, or if you’re concerned that this may be a symptom of a larger health issue, don’t hesitate to see your doctor to find out what’s causing them (and for peace of mind).

While You’re Waiting For Your Appointment...

You can wear pantyliners for light protection against breakthrough and withdrawal bleeding. For more hygiene products, browse our ranges of pads and tampons, or read more advice on menstrual cycles.

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Frequently Asked Question: Periods

Can I have sex when I'm on my period?

Yes you can. In rare instances, you can still get pregnant. You should also bear in mind that you can still catch a sexually transmitted disease when on your period

Will I smell when I’m on my period?

You might notice a slight odour when you're on your period. Tampons can help with this because they're worn inside your body. If you prefer to use pads, make sure to change them regularly if you notice a strong odour.

How will the contraceptive pill affect my periods?

Some brands of contraceptive pills can reduce your flow or shorten the length of your period. Your doctor or nurse will discuss this with you during your consultation.

My periods are really heavy, which products should I use?

You’ve got a few options available. Lil-lets Super Plus tampons have the highest absorbency in our range and are great for heavy periods. If you prefer to use an applicator tampon, our super tampons are a really good choice for medium to heavy flow. If you use pads, we suggest using our Night Maxi Pad, which is the highest absorbency pad within our range

What can I do to relieve my period pain?

Although you may not feel like doing it at the time, stretching or gentle exercise will ease this discomfort. Healthy eating is also known to help relieve any period pain. Alternatively, treat yourself to a relaxing bath or cuddle up on the sofa with a hot water bottle. If none of these help, your local pharmacy can give you guidance on suitable pain relief.

How long does a period last?

This can vary from 2 to 5 days and could be up to 10.

Is it okay to have a bath or shower when I have my period?

Yes, it's important to keep yourself clean during your period and hot water can help soothe cramps too!

What do you find is the most effective way to deal with menstrual cramps?

Menstrual cramps vary from menstruator to menstruator. For some, period cramps are little to no pain, whereas for others, it can be a truly excruciating experience. Thus dealing with period cramps can vary. We recommend exploring to opt for home treatments instead of relying heavily on over-the-counter medicine. These two options can assist with cramps:

• Getting regular exercise can help with blood flow and may reduce cramping.
• Put a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your belly, or taking a warm bath. The heat improves blood flow and may ease the pain.

However, if pain does persist, it is recommended to chat to your doctor or gynae

Can I wash my hair during my period?

You totally can! We've often been fed a lot of misinformation. That's not the case - you can take care of yourself (including washing your hair, why not throw in a face mask?), exercise if you're up to it, be around your loved ones and work as normal. Besides the pain and discomfort which accompanies some people's periods, you can continue on as normal.

Is it okay to swim when you're on your period?

Swimming during your period isn't a problem. However, you will want to use a tampon when swimming so you don't bleed on your swimsuit. Pads won't work and will just fill with water. The tampon won't fall out if it is inserted correctly. Go and make a splash!

Have more questions on periods?

Got a question you’ve been too embarrassed to ask? Wondering if what you are experiencing every month is normal?

Join our Lil-Lets Talk community for empowering conversations for people with periods.

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