The average woman's menstrual patterns take place in approximate 28-day cycles during her reproductive life, with bleeding known as a period occurring for three to five of these days. Although this may vary slightly from woman to woman, any menstrual activity that strays drastically from this cycle or comes with abnormal bleeding (e.g., spotting between periods or heavy bleeding) is usually considered irregular. The regularity of the menstrual cycle is closely linked to the general well-being of the body, and irregular periods are often an outward indicator of an internal bodily issue or significant change.
Menstruation and Menopause
The hormones that dictate the regularity of the menstrual cycle are estrogen and progesterone. During perimenopause, production of these hormones declines as the body prepares to stop periods altogether (i.e., menopause). As a result of hormonal imbalances, periods are likely to occur less frequently, and bleeding is usually heavier and more painful when periods do occur. This symptom can last for up to ten years with increasing amounts of time between periods. Menopause is understood to have taken place when a period has not occurred for over a year.
Extreme weight loss can cause irregular periods, especially when this is paired with excessive exercise. Lack of nutrients, minerals, and sustenance during crash diets or after a large percentage of body weight has been shed quickly can cause periods to become irregular or stop altogether.
Emotional strain is likely to affect the regularity of the menstrual cycle. A significant change, such as traveling or moving to a new house, might temporarily cause periods to become irregular. Anxiety, grief, or stress can also cause irregular periods, as the body halts certain functions to use energy instead on dealing with emotional stress.
Your choice of contraception may also inhibit regular menstruation. Internal contraceptives, such as birth control pill, implant, and injection, are usually hormone-based, which can affect the activity of estrogen and progesterone and make periods more or less frequent.
Why Am I Having Irregular Periods: Other Causes
In some cases, irregular periods are associated with other conditions. These include:
Uterine fibroids. Fibroids are benign (i.e., non-cancerous) tumors that grow in and around the wall of the uterus. These are not usually dangerous, but they can cause painful, irregular periods, and, in extreme cases, infertility or multiple miscarriages.
Endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when parts of the uterus wall lining embed onto other parts of the reproductive area and continue to shed, causing inflammation, extreme pain, and infertility. Inability to become pregnant, constipation, diarrhea, pain when passing stools and urinating, depression, tiredness, and pain after sexual intercourse alongside irregular periods may all be suggestive of endometriosis.
Anemia. Anemia is a common blood disorder where, due to red blood cell deficiencies, only a limited supply of oxygen can be carried to organ and muscle tissues. Irregular periods may be symptomatic of anemia. While anemia is not an illness in itself, it is often indicative of nutrient deficiencies and can also symptomize serious conditions, including infections, bone marrow disorders, and chronic diseases. Other symptoms include jaundice, tiredness, depression, and hair loss.
You'll most likely find the answer to the question, "Why am I having irregular periods?" by scrutinizing your lifestyle diet, age, and other symptoms, and making necessary adjustments to help deal with your irregular periods. However, if you are unable to identify a cause or you're concerned about your symptoms, it's advisable to arrange a medical consultation to rule out anything serious.
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- National Health Service UK. (2013). Periods, irregular - Treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2014, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Treatment.aspx
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Menstruation. Retrieved May 14, 2014, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/menstruation.html
- National Institutes of Health. (2014). Uterine Fibroids. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/uterinefibroids.html
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Anemia fact sheet. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/anemia.html
- Office on Women's Health. (2012). Endometriosis fact sheet. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/endometriosis.html
- The Ohio State University. (n.d.). Perimenopause. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://medicalcenter.osu.edu/patientcare/healthcare_services/womens_health/menopause/perimenopause/Pages/index.aspx
- University of Chicago Medicine. (n.d.). Overview of Anemia. Retrieved May 14, 2014, from http://www.uchospitals.edu/online-library/content=P00078