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Monday, January 6, 2020

Periods of change: factors that affect your menstrual cycle

Dr. Robert Wool

menstrual cycle
By the end of their teens, most women are well acquainted with their own menstrual cycle. While some can fill their calendars with a year’s worth of predictable 5-day blocks, others have learned to manage some elements of surprise. Whatever a “normal” period is for you, you’ve probably experienced something out of the norm from time to time—and wondered if you should worry.

Your menstrual cycle: unique to you

Through the decades that you’ll have a period, there are various factors that can and will affect your usual cycle. Though most irregularities are not a cause for serious concern, it’s important to understand what might be going on when changes do occur.

The menstrual cycle is typically 21–35 days long, counted from the first day of a period to the first day of the next one, and bleeding typically lasts 3–7 days. Periods may be lighter or heavier, and there may or may not be some cramping. While monthly variation in all these aspects is part of many women’s “normal,” sometimes there may be a specific cause behind the change.

What’s disrupting your pattern?

A number of things can throw off your personal period pattern, from a lifestyle change to a reproductive disease that requires treatment. Common culprits include:

·         Stress, excessive exercising or extreme weight loss. These can affect hormones that regulate menstruation, causing late or even missed periods.
·         Contraceptives. Many women will experience lighter, more regular and/or more comfortable periods when using birth control pills or other hormonal contraceptives.
·         Pregnancy or breastfeeding. Periods generally stop during pregnancy and may not return while a woman is breastfeeding.
·         Age. Many women begin to experience menstrual changes, such as longer, heavier or irregular periods, a few years before entering menopause.
·         Infection. Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or another infection of the reproductive organs may cause irregular bleeding and pain. 
·         Uterine fibroids. Most common among women in their 30s, these benign growths can cause heavier and/or more painful periods. 
·         Endometriosis. Irregular bleeding, painful periods and general pelvic pain could be due to endometriosis, a condition in which tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow outside of it.
·         Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). This disorder of the endocrine system affects ovulation, often causing infrequent or absent periods.

Rarely, menstrual irregularities or bleeding between periods could signal a more serious problem, such as uterine cancer. For this reason, as well as for general wellness, schedule an appointment if you’re experiencing notable, bothersome or ongoing changes in your periods. In most cases, we can successfully treat or otherwise address the underlying issue—and provide some peace of mind.