“My Friend”, “The Monthlies”, “That Time of the Month”, “The Curse”, and other less pleasant idioms for monthly menstruation refer to the regular bodily changes of a woman’s body.
Regular periods let women know that not only are they not pregnant but things internally are normal and healthy (uncomfortable though the effects may be).
Irregular periods can indicate the opposite so it’s best not to ignore obvious signs. Every woman is different and knows what is normal for her based on many years of experience. If things change, it’s time to pay attention.
8 Signs Of Irregular Periods
While bouts of stress or illness can cause irregular menses, these 8 signs can indicate a much more pressing problem.
1. Excessive Or Prolonged Bleeding
Fibroids are benign uterine tumors. Very common among women of child-bearing age, they can form on the walls of the uterus—the cause is unknown. The existence of a fibroid tumor(s) can cause your period to last longer than 7 days and/or experience a very heavy flow. A 2012 multi-national study of over 21,000 women ages 15 to 49 were surveyed regarding their menstrual flow and monthly symptoms (1).
Researchers found that women with fibroid tumors were more likely than women without to suffer from:
- Bleeding between periods
- Heavy menstrual flow
- Irregular periods
- Prolonged duration of menstrual period
- Chronic pelvic pain
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Bladder pressure
- Cramping throughout the month
2. Irregular Periods
If your period isn’t stable and doesn’t seem to follow a proper schedule, your irregular cycle may be caused by the conditions listed below.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine disorder in which there’s an imbalance of sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Small cysts can form in the ovaries, which then become enlarged. With PCOS, ovulation doesn’t occur on a regular basis as it should. If ovulation doesn’t occur regularly, menstruation doesn’t follow. It often develops in teens and young adults.
There is a correlation between excess insulin in the blood and PCOS, as this hormone is partly responsible for testosterone levels in the body. Insulin resistance is a primary factor in the incidence of PCOS and is a precursor to type-2 diabetes. PCOS can cause infertility but is treatable with weight loss, blood sugar management, exercise, diet, herbs, and natural supplements.
Women with both types 1 and 2 diabetes often experience “disordered reproductive function”. A 1994 review of various studies attributes this not only to insulin resistance but general hormonal imbalance involving disruption of hypothalamus, pituitary, and gonadal function (2).
Another, 5-year study of over 100,000 women confirmed that highly irregular or long menstrual cycles correlates with a significantly higher risk of developing diabetes than in women with regular periods (3). Short menstrual cycles of less than 21 days are also at higher risk.
3. Light Flow
While it may seem like a boon, if your regular flow becomes noticeably lighter over the course of a few months, it may be a signal that you are experiencing excess stress or unusual hormone changes. A light period is considered one that lasts less than 2 days or spotting often instead of experiencing true monthly periods. Stress is a life challenge and can be extremely difficult to manage on your own.
Confide in a friend or professional, exercise regularly, eat properly, meditate, practice yoga, take up a hobby, listen to music—whatever helps. Chronic stress can lead to serious illness, so it’s important to find healthy ways to deal with it.
4. Early Menstruation
On average, girls are beginning to menstruate 6 months earlier and develop breasts 2 years earlier than they did 40 years ago. This is attributed to toxins found in food and the environment.
Xenoestrogens are chemicals that mimic estrogen (female sex hormone) found in personal and home care products, pesticides, and ingestion of plastics from food containers. Long-term effects of chronic exposure to these toxins are not yet known.
5. Unbearable Cramps
Menstrual cramping is normal, as the uterus cleanses itself and expels bad blood. Excruciating cramps are not. Pelvic pain (often accompanied by lower back pain), especially during the monthly cycle, can be a sign of endometriosis. This is a chronic condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrium) grows outside the uterus (4).
It can affect other parts of the female reproductive system, including ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, vagina, and vulva. Less often, endometrial tissue grows around the bladder, lung, arm, leg, and elsewhere.
6. Early or Late Puberty
The onset of puberty is dictated by hormones. The thyroid secretes hormones that affect metabolism, growth, libido, digestion, brain development, heart rate, muscle activity, and menstrual cycle. It’s estimated that over 12% of the population of the industrial world will experience thyroid problems. Toxins in food and the environment are held responsible for this epidemic.
A thyroid that isn’t working properly can affect when puberty occurs. An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can be signaled by light, irregular, or missed periods. In contrast, heavy, frequent, extended periods can indicate hypothyroidism (underactive).
7. Unusual Bleeding
Bleeding between menstrual periods and/or after sexual intercourse can be a sign of cervical cancer or pregnancy. If you notice this over the course of a few months, contact your healthcare provider.
8. Sudden Lack Of Periods
A low body mass index (less than 18.5) can make your periods stop or delay their onset at puberty. Adipose tissue (fat) is where hormone conversion takes place. Different hormone components come together and are released from fat into the bloodstream. Too little body fat means the appropriate hormones aren’t produced and distributed.
A 2014 study of adolescent girls with eating disorders found that their body mass index (BMI) needed to be at least in the 25th percentile of BMI-for-age growth chart in order for regular menstruation to resume (5). A healthy BMI for adults is between 18.5 and 24.9. You can find a BMI calculator here.
As inconvenient as they may be, your periods are another way to monitor general health. Talk to your doctor if you notice that your period is irregular.