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Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle: What's Normal and What Isn't

October 19, 2018

menstrual cycleWhen a menstrual cycle is late, particularly heavy or light, more painful than normal, or completely MIA, it can lead to some feelings of concern and anxiousness.  There is a lot that the characteristics of a menstrual cycle can tell us about a woman’s health, so when something seems off, it warrants some investigation.  Fortunately, in most cases, slight changes in the menstrual cycle are completely normal and do not indicate a serious concern. 

Defining a Normal Menstrual Cycle

“Normal” is a relative term, particularly when referring to the menstrual cycle.  It differs in length, heaviness, and symptoms from one patient to the next.  For one woman, a typical cycle may be 23 days with a relatively light flow and cramping.  For another, it could be 31 days and hallmarked by intense cramping and heavy flow.  In order to know when there is a problem with the menstrual cycle, a patient must first understand what constitutes their “normal.”  This can be accomplished by monitoring the cycle length (measured from the first day of one period to the next) and typical associated symptoms.  For the average woman, a cycle can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days and may differ based on forms of contraception used.

Identifying Menstrual Cycle Irregularites

Occasional changes in a cycle are typically not problematic.  However, if a patient notices consistent or severe changes, it is important to see a gynecologist.  Some problems that indicate the possible need for medical attention include:

  • Bleeding for more than 7 days
  • Heavy bleeding that saturates a pad or tampon every hour
  • Sudden stop in periods
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Severe cramping or pain
  • Cycles that are shorter than 21 days or longer than 35

Causes of Menstrual Cycle Changes

In addition to obvious possibilities such as pregnancy, there are many other potential causes behind menstrual cycle irregularities, making it important for patients to consult with their physician for an accurate diagnosis.  Possible reasons behind period changes may include:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Premature ovarian failure / Primary ovarian insufficiency
  • Extreme weight loss / eating disorders

If you are experiencing changes in your own menstrual cycle, schedule an appointment with a gynecologist and give yourself the peace of mind that comes with examination, diagnosis, and proper treatment.  Learn more about Lane OB/GYN and our physicians by clicking below.

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