Normal Versus Abnormal Cycles

>> Wednesday, September 11, 2013

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I am always baffled when I talk to my patients and realize how many do not understand their monthly cycles. How expectant we are as young women, knowing that any day 'the change' can come when the monthly cycles begin. Most of us begin them around age 12-14, and simply expect that they will come faithfully month after month until menopause. If they stop coming regularly, we become alarmed because that can be a sign of change in our overall health. However, most of us are not educated on what it means if our cycles become irregular.

Most woman will, on average, get her period for three to seven days once a month (really every 28 - 30 days). After menstruating for several years, women tend to settle into a cycle. Some women can even predict down to the day or hour when their periods will come. If you've been menstruating for a while, your body will get into a rhythm, which is why an irregular period is usually defined as any type of bleeding that's abnormal for you when compared to your last few menstrual cycles. It can include changes in the timing of your period or PMS, amount of bleeding, or different symptoms such as cramping, bloating, tender breasts or headaches.

The amount of blood per cycle varies from woman to woman, and can be much heavier in teens and those in peri menopause (the 5-10 years prior to menopause) due to erratic hormone fluctuations. A heavy period can cause the loss of up to 12 teaspoons of blood each month, while others may experience a period as light as four teaspoons. It may seem like a whole lot more than that, especially when we have a very heavy period with clots.

It is rare for periods to cause anemia, even with heavy monthly periods. Anemia from vaginal bleeding usually occurs when bleeding patterns change, causing prolonged cycles that last 20-30 days, with heavy bleeding and passage of clots. These can stop for a few days, and then the bleeding returns. The most common cause for this is hormone imbalance, organ dysfunction or anatomical abnormalities like uterine fibroids, polyps, infections, and ovarian cysts.

Every woman will experience an irregular period from time to time, and though, in most cases, they aren't dangerous, it's important to figure out what's causing the irregularity. Some of the more common reasons for abnormal menses are pregnancy, hormone imbalance from peri menopause, menopause, teen years, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCO), stress, and various medications. Another common reason for a late or missing period is the food you eat (and how it affects weight). Anorexia, extreme weight loss and low body fat can cause amenorrhea (loss of regular cycles). Women need a certain amount of body fat to have normal, regular cycles or to carry and grow a healthy baby. Likewise, extreme weight gain can cause hormone imbalance because excessive fat produces more estrogen. This can thicken the endometrial lining, causing heavy or irregular periods. Thyroid balance is extremely important for metabolism, weight control and regulation of periods.

If you were recently sick and had to take prescription or over-the-counter medication, your period may show up a day or two early or late and continue for several days, with bleeding/spotting. Some medications can interfere with the way your body metabolizes estrogen and progesterone which regulate menstrual cycles. Excessive drinking can also cause damage to the liver and may interfere with its ability to metabolize and regulate these hormones. This can be transient when drinking is only occasional, or can be permanent if alcoholism is involved.

Depending on the cause of your irregular period, there may or may not be much you can do about it. See your doctor about the symptoms you've been having and how irregular your periods have been. He or she can help you take the proper course of action. If you do not have access to this type of health care, then learn as much as you can about your body and how it functions so you can request a referral to a specialist so you can get the appropriate blood tests and ultrasounds.

Note, when periods become irregular and bleeding increases, it can create a pH imbalance in the vagina. This can cause a constant, frustrating battle with vaginal odor and discharge. That's why so many women are finding help with WaterWorks. WaterWorks is FDA-cleared for vaginal odor and discharge. It is all natural - using no chemicals, just plain water. It can be used every day for feminine hygiene to feel fresh and clean.

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