Most women experience irregularity in their menstrual cycle at some point in their lives. This is especially common during the menopause transition, when menstruation tapers off and eventually ceases. Read on to learn more about why irregular periods happen and how to identify them.
How Hormones Affect Irregular Periods
Hormones are chemical messengers in the body that regulate functions and processes. The two primary female sex hormones, estrogen and progesterone, regulate the menstrual cycle. During the first half of the cycle, estrogen is responsible for building up the uterine lining and triggering the release of an egg. Then, in the seconds half, progesterone enriches the uterine lining and stimulates the production of more estrogen. At the end of the cycle, a drop in both hormones causes the lining to be shed in what is known as a “period”.
However, if either estrogen or progesterone levels are imbalanced, irregular periods can result. For example, a shortage of progesterone may cause too much lining to build up, resulting in heavy irregular periods. During menopause, hormones are in a state of flux. This shift and eventual decline is likely to trigger irregular periods.
Understanding the Symptoms
All women are different, and learning to recognize the more common symptoms of a normal period is essential. It is normal to miss a period or get an extra period during stressful times. The number of days in between menstruation can vary among women as well. Some bleed for two days and others bleed for a week, while menstrual cycles can range from 24 to 35 days in length, with the average being 28. This is because hormonal shifts are irregular and differ between cycles. This affects the amount and length of menstruation.
While these are typical symptoms related to menstruation, a woman may experience any one of them for the first time during menopause, because of changes in hormones. The following symptoms are often signs that your period is due to start, helping to predict irregular periods:
- Breast soreness
- Lower back or abdominal pain
- Difficulty sleeping
Besides fluctuating levels of female hormones, other factors may influence menstrual irregularities:
- Production of too much androgen (male hormones) - side effects include a deepening of the voice, increased muscle mass, and increased facial hair
- Excessive weight gain or loss
- Poor nutrition
- Certain medications
While irregular periods are inconvenient and can interfere with daily life, there are some signs that can help identify them before bleeding begins. Then, they can be regulated appropriately. Click on the following link to read about irregular period treatments.
- BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause." November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.