Learning why your period is irregular is beneficial when it comes to assessing your health. Indeed having menstrual irregularities is not normal and can be an indication that there is something up with your reproductive health. But, trying to determine exactly what that is can be a tad bit confusing. Especially since irregular periods are linked to a variety of different health issues. Some of these issues are not that serious whereas others are more serious and require medical intervention. Today, let’s discuss seven possible reasons your period is irregular.
But First, What’s A Normal Period?
In all honesty, there are no hard and fast “rules” as to what a normal, regular period is. Every woman’s body is unique and individual. So, what’s normal for you may not be normal for me and vice versa. But, your menstrual cycle and period should fall within some basic parameters. For instance, a normal healthy menstrual cycle should occur every 21 to 35 days and is fairly predictable. It may be off by a few days but you have a good idea when to expect your period. Additionally, your period should last between 2 to 5 days (seriously, if you have a 2-3 day period you’re so lucky). And, you may experience light to moderate bleeding during your period.
Whereas, if you have an unhealthy menstrual cycle and your period is irregular your monthly cycle is prolonged. Instead of getting your period every 21-35 days, it’s coming every 36+ days. You’ll find your menstrual cycle is unpredictable. And, the length varies and fluctuates constantly. This can be confusing because you don’t know when to expect your period. Furthermore, the length and intensity of your period may be off. In some cases, your period may be super short (only last for 1 day) or super long (lasts for more than 7 days). On the other hand, you may have painful periods with severe debilitating pelvic cramps, back pain, and nausea. Additionally, heavy prolonged bleeding or spotting can be an issue. Experiencing any of these symptoms are clues that your period is irregular and something’s up.
7 Possible Reasons Your Period Is Irregular
Now that you understand the difference between a healthy normal period and an unhealthy irregular period let’s dive into some of the possible reasons that your period is irregular.
This is probably the most obvious reason why your period is irregular. Especially, if this is the first time you’ve experienced any issues with your period and have had a fairly normal, healthy cycle. In this case, your first step should be to take a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy.
You Started or Stopped Hormonal Birth Control
Starting or stopping hormonal birth control will have an impact on your hormonal balance. Fluctuations with your hormones as your body adjust to birth control can cause your period to be irregular. As a matter of fact, it may take a couple of cycles before your body regulates itself. It’s important to note that if you just started hormonal birth control you should understand the side effects associated with your particular birth control method. Each individual birth control method (whether it’s the pill, shot, IUD, ring, etc.) will have its own unique side effects. Your doctor should discuss these side effects with you before you start. In the event, they didn’t make sure you look into all possible side effects and how long they last so you’re aware of what to expect. But, if the issue continues for more than a few months it may be time to speak with your doctor regarding what you’re experiencing to determine if hormonal birth control is right for you.
You’re Stressed Out
Elevated stress levels put your body in fight or flight mode. Meaning stressing out about that work project, financial responsibilities, or running from a lion on the African Sahara will yield the same response from your sympathetic nervous system. This means the reproductive system shuts down. Thus, inhibiting ovulation. And, when you don’t ovulate your body doesn’t go through the normal processes of preparing for a possible baby. This means the uterine lining doesn’t thicken thus eliminating the need for it to shed at the end of your monthly cycle. Hence, your period is irregular and a no-show for that particular cycle. If stress is the cause of your menstrual irregularities learning how to manage and cope with the stressful situations in your life is going to be key in helping you get your period back on track.
You’re Dieting Too Hard or Over Exercising
The effects of restrictive dieting and over-exercising are similar to that of being overly stressed. They both contribute to hormonal imbalance within the body and lead to ovulation being inhibited. In the case of restrictive dieting, you’re not giving your body the nutrients and calories it needs to function properly and maintain healthy metabolic function. This impairs reproductive health and halts ovulation. Whereas, over-exercise puts an excessive level of stress on the body increasing cortisol levels and contributing to hormonal imbalance within the body also preventing ovulation. If you find that your period is irregular make sure you analyze your nutrition and fitness habits to see if there’s room for improvement. This could mean making dietary changes, decreasing the intensity of your workouts, or even working out less often.
In this instance, your period is irregular due to your body’s hormonal levels fluctuating as it prepares for menopause. It’s during this time that you will experience irregularity with your menstrual cycles and monthly periods. There will be long spans of time between each period as well as changes to your period itself. On average this process usually begins in your forties but can start as early as your thirties. Remember, you aren’t declared to be in menopause until you’ve had 12 months (one full year) without your period. If you suspect that this process is occurring discuss it with your doctor. There are hormonal and alternative therapies that can help you better manage your symptoms.
You Have Primary Ovarian Insufficiency
When your period is irregular due to primary ovarian insufficiency the follicles in the ovary become depleted or fail to work properly. This is thought to be caused by autoimmune disorders, cancer treatments that include chemotherapy and radiation, as well as viral infections. In addition to irregular periods you may also find you experience:
- Hot flashes
- Night Sweats
- Mood Swings, Anxiety, Depression
- Concentration or Memory Problems
- Decreased Libido
- Trouble Sleeping
- Vaginal Dryness
- Fertility Complications
If you find that you’re displaying any of the above symptoms it may be time to discuss with your doctor if primary ovarian insufficiency could be an issue for you.
You Have An Underlying Health Complication
Hormonal imbalances brought on by chronic illness and autoimmune disease may be the reason your period is irregular. Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, diabetes, or thyroid disorders can interfere with your menstrual cycle. Tracking and monitoring your menstrual cycle and period can help you learn about your body. This will help you to determine what’s normal and what’s not normal. So, in the event that you begin to develop changes to your menstrual cycle that last for more than 4 months seek medical advice. Discuss your family medical history, menstrual history, and sexual history. If there is a history of certain diseases within your family such as PCOS or endometriosis make sure to share this information with them and discuss diagnostic options.
The Importance of Being Aware
Skipping your period occasionally does not always mean there’s a problem. Fluctuations can happen to all of us. Consequently, these fluctuations usually correct themself within 1-2 cycles. But, having consistent irregular periods with unusual symptoms that worsen over time could mean something’s up. When your period is irregular consistently you should go through the steps of getting to the root cause of why. Track and monitor your cycle and discuss any new changes or symptoms with your doctor.
(1). Medical News Today: What You Need to Know About Irregular Periods, written by Yvette Brazier, medically reviewed by University of Illinois-Chicago, School of Medicine on November 24, 2017
(2). WebMd: What Is Premature Ovarian Failure?