Experiencing an irregular period from time-to-time can be a normal occurrence. Understanding the possible causes can help you determine if an irregular cycle is cause for concern.
·October 16th, 2021
Irregular menstruation, or having irregular periods that vary in their frequency, intensity, or side effects, can be relatively common for people who menstruate, and aren’t always cause for concern.
See a primary care provider or OBGYN if irregular periods are frequent or cause you significant pain.
Healthy lifestyle practices like staying active, maintaining a balanced diet, employing stress management techniques, and getting good sleep can help regulate your period.
Complementary practitioners like behavioral therapists, acupuncturists, herbalists, and nutritionists may be able to help – Sound Cycle’s provider search can help you find one.
Your menstrual cycle can tell you a lot about your health. From the time you have your first menstrual period until you reach perimenopause or menopause, having regular periods can be a sign that your body is working normally. But what if you experience an irregular period?
Thankfully, having an irregular menstrual flow is a normal occurrence for many people and not necessarily cause for concern. However, in some cases, it can be a sign of an underlying problem or medical condition.
In this article, we’ll discuss the various causes of irregular periods, the most common causes and risks, and what changes you can implement to help regulate your period. Finally, we’ll discuss when you may want to speak with a doctor or medical expert.
What constitutes an irregular period?
Though the timing of menstrual cycles can vary depending on lifestyle, age, biology, and genetics, the standard range of a normal menstrual cycle is usually defined as between 21 and 35 days. Additionally, the length of your period can also vary, but they typically last between 4 and 7 days.
Keep in mind that for the first few years after menstruation begins, it’s common to have longer cycles. And as you age, it’s common to develop shorter and shorter cycles until you reach perimenopause or menopause.
With that in mind, there are several ways someone can experience an irregular cycle or period:
Having periods that occur less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, sometimes called oligomenorrhea
Not having a period for at least three menstrual cycles in a row, also called amenorrhea
Having flow that is lighter or heavier than usual
Having a period that lasts longer than 7 days
Experiencing excessive pain, cramps, nausea, or vomiting during your period, sometimes called dysmenorrhea
Experiencing bleeding or spotting in between periods, or after menopause or sex
Knowing your own body’s baseline is the best way to identify whether or not you’re experiencing menstrual irregularities.
For example, you may speak with a friend who gets their period every 22 days on the dot. Because of their reliable cycle, they may consider any cycle longer than 22 days to be irregular. But if you know that you get your regular cycle every 32-35 days, then having a cycle of 33 days shouldn’t be cause for concern.
Tracking your cycle can be a great way to know your body better. If you decide to track your periods, be sure to mark the time in between periods, the length of your periods, and any side effects you regularly experience during your cycle.
What are the causes of an irregular period?
There are several possible causes of menstrual cycle irregularities, some of which may warrant medical attention and others which can be managed at home.
Stress can have a big impact on our menstrual cycles. That’s because the hypothalamus (the part of your brain that controls your period) is also directly influenced by hormones released under stress, like cortisol.
Other lifestyle factors that can impact menstruation include:
Gaining or losing a significant amount of weight
Change to your exercise routine
Birth control pills
Importantly, many birth control pills affect menstruation during and/or after use. The hormones used in birth control, estrogen and progestin (either alone or in combination) can cause delayed periods, missing periods, and spotting or bleeding between periods.
Certain medical conditions
Several medical conditions can affect menstruation, including:
Fibroids or polyps: These usually noncancerous growths can grow in the lining of the uterus. Ranging in size from small to large, they can cause heavy menstrual bleeding or pain during periods.
Endometriosis: People with endometriosis have endometrial tissue that grows outside of the uterus, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, rectum, and other organs. Though still understudied and poorly understood by many experts, the condition can cause infrequent menstrual flow, cramping and pain during periods, and painful intercourse.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS): This common endocrine disorder can cause irregular periods, infertility, and hirsutism (excessive hair growth and acne).
Eating disorders and excessive exercising: Both eating disorders and excessive exercising (sometimes referred to orthorexia) can cause irregular or missed periods.
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): This bacterial infection can cause irregular menstrual bleeding.
Premature ovarian insufficiency: Also referred to as the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40. People with premature ovarian insufficiency can have irregular periods for years.
Uncontrolled diabetes: The interaction between blood sugar levels and hormones can affect your menstrual cycle.
Thyroid disorders: Both an under- and overactive thyroid (also known as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism) can affect the menstrual cycle.
Pregnancy: Of course, pregnancy and breastfeeding can cause irregular periods. Complications associate with pregancy, such as miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, can also cause irregular bleeding.
Some steroids and anticoagulant drugs (blood thinners) can cause irregular periods.
Though rare, uterine and cervical cancer can also cause irregular periods.
Are there risks associated with having an irregular period?
Occasional cases of mild irregular periods aren’t usually cause for concern. But if you’re in a significant amount of pain or experiencing or unsure about the cause of your irregular period, reach out to a healthcare provider.
Keep in mind that the risk of uterine cancer increases with age, so if you’re experiencing any irregular bleeding during later life stages it’s important to reach out to your provider.
How to regulate your period naturally
If this is your first time experiencing irregular bleeding, there are several things you can try at home to help regulate your cycle.
Move your body regularly (but avoid excessive exercise)
Avoid dieting that dramatically limits your calorie and food intake
Practice regular stress management techniques like deep breathing, yoga, or meditation
Seek treatment for any underlying medical conditions
Prioritize getting good, quality sleep
Eat a nutritious diet rich in whole foods
Seek help from a complementary provider, like a nutritionist
When to seek help
If lifestyle management fails to help regulate your cycle, talk to your doctor or gynecologist about whether birth control pills or another medication may help. For lifestyle consultations, nutritionists, dietitians, acupuncturists and others can also be extremely supportive. Or, if you’re experiencing severe pain, unusually heavy bleeding, or any new symptoms such as fever, vomiting, diarrhea, fainting or dizziness, reach out to your provider.
If you think you may be experiencing irregular menstruation, the right provider can help you build a personalized plan to support your wellbeing. Connect with a credentialed expert who serves your area here.