Short. Long. Late. Early. Heavy. There are a bunch of variations in our menstrual cycles from month to month. Most of them are no big deal. But which of them indicate a menstrual cycle problem? Here’s how to tell the difference between normal cycle fluctuations and abnormal menstrual cycles. (Hint: More often than not, it’s no big deal.)What Does It Mean to Have an Abnormal Menstrual Cycle
First things first. Irregular does not mean abnormal. In many situations it is normal and okay to have an irregular cycle.
If you’re new to menstruating, for instance, it’s perfectly normal to have an irregular menstural cycle for the first year or two after you get your first period. This means that your cycle length is quite consistent from one month to the next.
The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, which means there are 28 days between the first day of your last period and the first day of your next period. (Click here for more info on how to track your cycle). But this is just an average. A cycle between 21 and 35 days is considered normal.
In fact, even after your period has become regular, it is normal for your cycle to vary slightly from month to month. In other words, if your average cycle length is 27 days, it’s normal for one month’s cycle to be 26 days, and another month 28 days. These are normal variations and can be due to a whole host of reasons ranging from what you ate that month to how much you slept. Generally, however, it’s nothing to worry about.
So, what is abnormal? If you’ve been menstruating for more than two years and still don’t have a predictable cycle, this is known as having an abnormal menstrual cycle. This might mean you have a late menstrual cycle or an early menstrual cycle. Either way, it indicates an underlying menstrual cycle problem. Talk to your doctor about what could be causing it.
Another indication of a menstrual cycle problem is if your period lasts for more than 7 days. If this is the case for you, consult your physician.Potential Menstrual Cycle Problems1. You stopped getting your period
If you are not getting your period at all, a condition known as amenorrhea, this is indicative of a menstrual cycle problem, usually related to a disruption in ovulation due to a hormone imbalance. This can be caused by things like:
- Extreme exercise and dieting
- Being extremely underweight
- Excessive stress
If you have stopped getting your period, consult your doctor. Together you can get to the root of the issue.2. You have an excessively heavy period
Having a particularly heavy period is known as menorrhagia. Here are some factors that could mean you have menorrhagia:
- You bleed through a menstrual pad or tampon every hour for more than two hours straight
- You notice sudden gushes in your flow
- You bleed for a week or longer
- You need to wake up in the middle of the night to change your pad
Menorrhagia is usually caused by an underlying medical condition that can be addressed by your doctor. Some of the reasons for menorrhagia that you can discuss with your doctor include:
3. You have an extremely painful period
- Inherited bleeding disorders
- Uterine fibroids, non-cancerous tumours on your uterus
- Polyps, small, benign growths on your uterine lining
- Certain medications
Having some menstrual pain is normal. But when your period pain is so bad that you find you can’t go about your day normally – think staying home from class – this might be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Severe menstrual pain is known as dysmenorrhea. In some instances, dysmenorrhea is caused by an underlying medical condition. Reach out to your doctor for advice.4. Your mood is all over the place before your period
Some moodiness before your period is normal – we’ve all been there! But if your moods are all over the map in a debilitating kind of way, you may have something called PMDD – premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Its symptoms include:
- Severe depression
- Drastic mood swings
- Anger outbursts
- Suicidal thoughts
If you think you experience PMDD, reach out to a health care provider for help and guidance.5. You never know when your period is going to come
Sure, it’s called your monthly cycle, but what if your period doesn’t come every month? It’s called having an irregular period, and can be chalked up to fluctuations in your hormones. If you are new to getting your period, it is very common to have an irregular period. This is because your body is just growing accustomed to the new hormones it is releasing and is learning to modulate how much and when to release them.
If you’ve been menstruating for more than two years, you may have an irregular period in the following cases:
- Extreme weight loss and eating disordered behaviour
- Excessive exercise