Irregular Periods

Normal vs. Abnormal Menstruation

Many women don't know what constitutes a normal period versus an abnormal one. Yes, you might chat with your friends about your period, but do you discuss how long it lasts and how heavy a flow you have? Probably not. Because you'll never learn it in school, women need to educate themselves about normal and abnormal periods.

What's a Normal Period Look Like?

A regular menstrual cycle is 28 days and lasts for an average of 4-7 days. Abnormalities include problems with heavy bleeding (menorrhagia), bleeding between cycles (metrorrhagia), long cycles with more than 35 days in between each one (oligomenorrhea), and six months or more between cycles (amenorrhea).

When You Think You Have Issues

Certainly, if you think that you have menstrual cycle issues, you should see your gynecologist. Keep a diary of your cycle so that you'll be able to show it to your doctor. You'll need to record how long each cycle was, how much bleeding you had (based on how many pads or tampons you used), and the intervals between your cycles. With this information, a doctor can determine what types of tests to order and what abnormality may best fit your set of circumstances.

Lab Work and More

Some of the interventions that you might expect include a regular physical exam to look for tumors or masses, a pap smear, and lab work. It is possible that the doctor may order x-ray or ultrasound studies to look for tumors or foreign objects that could distort the internal area of the uterus. You may also have hormone levels checked, pregnancy tests given, and chromosome analysis done.

Other Non-Gyno Issues

It's also possible to have menstrual issues for reasons that aren't directly related to your menstrual flow. For this reason, you'll want to be very specific with your doctor about medications you take, levels of exercise that you do, weight you've recently lost or gained, blood clotting abnormalities that you have such as leukemia or hemophilia, and more. Certain medications can cause menstrual irregularities as can low thyroid levels, drastic weight gain, birth control pills, IUDs, trauma and more. The more clear and honest you are with the doctor, the faster and more accurate your diagnosis should be.


One final issue that some women experience is amenorrhea; this is when they have absolutely no period. Obviously, this is the case for girls before they get their period, for pregnant women, and for postmenopausal women. This should not, however, be the case for women who don't fall into these categories. If pregnancy is ruled out, lab work can usually diagnose most abnormalities and hormones can usually get the woman back on track. Young women who don't yet show any puberty signs by the age of 14 should see a doctor, and those who don't get their period by 16 should as well. Women who are over 40 and who are having hot flashes or other menopausal symptoms should also be evaluated.

More about how birth control can affect your cycles.

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