Menstrual periods normally last from four to seven days, and women usually get their periods every 28 days. However, the cycles might range from 21 to 35 days. In some cases, women face abnormal periods, like the cycle occurring less 21 days, or over 35 days apart. Other abnormalities might include missing over three periods in a row, heavier or lighter flow than usual, periods lasting over seven days, periods accompanied by cramps, nausea, and vomiting, and bleeding or spotting between periods, which usually occurs after menopause or sex.
However, before you start worrying, here is a comprehensive guide about the types of abnormal periods, their possible causes, and treatments.
Types of abnormal periods:
- Menorrhagia & Polymenorrhea – There is prolonged and heavy bleeding, in this condition, which often disrupts daily activities. Though there are various forms, the most common ones are polymenorrhea or too frequent, postmenopausal or periods after menopause, and metrorrhagia or bleeding between periods. It might be caused due to hormonal imbalance, abnormal pregnancies or miscarriages, uterine fibroids, tumors in the pelvic cavity, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), platelet or bleeding disorder, high amounts of endothelin.
- Hypomenorrhea – It is the opposite of Menorrhagia. The condition is characterized by light period flow, with the menstruation lasting for less than two days. It might be due to pregnancy, low body fat, Asherman’s syndrome, hormonal imbalance, stress, and ovarian failure which is premature.
- Dysmenorrhea – Women go through extreme pain and menstrual cramps during this condition. Some of the symptoms include nausea, dizziness, fatigue, pain in the lower abdomen, back, and legs, headaches, and vomiting.
- Amenorrhea – This is when a woman misses more than three periods and might be caused by any number of factors including eating disorder or obesity, ovulation abnormality, thyroid disorder, extreme exercise, and birth defect.
Causes of abnormal periods:
Abnormal periods are not always linked to underlying health problems. Often lifestyle changes can affect periods too. Some of the common causes are –
- Stressful lifestyle – Dieting, extreme weight fluctuations, illness, or travels, might disrupt a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Birth control – Since birth control pills combine hormones which prevent the egg from being released, going off it can affect menstruation. The cycle takes up to six months to normalize in most cases.
- Polyps or Fibroids in the Uterus – The former is benign, while the latter is a tumor. They attach themselves to the walls of the uterus, and often cause heavy pain or bleeding during periods.
- Endometriosis – In this condition, the endometrial tissue, which lines the uterus breaks down each month and gets discharged. It might lead to abnormal bleeding, cramps prior to, and during periods.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – It is a bacterial infection that affects the reproductive system. Symptoms include unpleasant odor in vaginal discharge, irregular periods, pain in pelvic areas as well as lower abdominal pain, nausea, fever, vomiting, diarrhea.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) – In PCOS, women form more androgens, which are male hormones. It results in irregular periods, and women might even stop menstruating completely.
- Premature ovarian insufficiency – This condition is sometimes seen in women under 40. Their menstrual cycle stops, much like menopause. It can be seen in patients being treated with radiation, or in people whose family history has the same insufficiency or chromosomal disabilities.
- Other causes – Uterine or cervical cancer might cause abnormal periods, as might the use of steroids and blood thinners. Medical conditions that affect hormonal balance might be a reason as might complications during pregnancy, including miscarriage.
Diagnosis and Treatment of abnormal periods:
If you feel the need to consult your physician about the abnormal periods, you might have to undergo some of the diagnostic processes. They include –
- Blood tests, to eliminate the possibility of anemia and other medical disorders
- Vaginal cultures, for infections
- Pelvic ultrasound, to see if there are polyps, fibroids or an ovarian cyst
- Endometrial biopsy, where a sample is removed from the lining of the uterus. The doctor can check for endometriosis, cancerous cells, and hormonal imbalance. Some of these other conditions can also be checked via laparoscopy, where a small incision is made in the abdomen, and then a thin tube with a light is inserted to observe the ovaries and uterus.
Once the diagnoses are complete, treating the condition becomes the next logical step. Procedures depend on the underlying cause.
- Regulating Menstrual Cycle – Hormones like estrogen and progestin are prescribed to control bleeding.
- Pain relief – While moderate pains can be regulated with over the counter pills, aspirin is not recommended as it causes heavier bleeding sometimes. Warm baths, heating pads, and showers might help to relieve cramps.
- Uterine fibroids – The condition can be treated medically or surgically. Those with mild symptoms can make do with over the counter pain medicines. If the fibroids aren’t affected by medicines, there are numerous surgical procedures as well. These depend on the size, location, and type of fibroids. A myomectomy simply includes the removal of the fibroid. In extreme cases, the individual might have to undergo hysterectomy. Uterine artery embolization is also an alternative.
- Endometriosis – Though there is no cure, over the counter meds can help with the pain. Hormone treatments can also come in handy in some cases.
Before you let the possibility of abnormal periods worry you, there are some self-care tips you can follow to try and avoid the situation. Lead a healthy lifestyle, with regular moderate exercise, and nutritious foods. If you are an athlete, be sure to cut back on workout routines that are too prolonged or intense. Get adequate rest, and practice relaxation techniques. See a doctor for regular checkups, and take contraceptives as per instructions. Lastly, change the sanitary napkins every four to six hours and avoid toxic shock syndrome, as well as infections.
Periods are often treated as taboo, so it might be harder for women to open up about abnormal periods. In turn, it might lead to delayed diagnoses and treatments. Be sure to keep a careful record of your menstrual cycle and consult your doctor in case of any irregularities.