|What Are Irregular Periods?
Most women experience irregular periods at some stage of their life. The definition of an irregular period is a change in the normal menstrual cycle: a period which occurs later or earlier than whatever is normal. Teenagers often have irregular menstrual cycles after menarche (their first period), but this usually stabilizes after a year or two. A woman is in her 20s and 30s periods can develop an irregular pattern after pregnancy or when switching to a new contraceptive pill. Later in life periods tend to become irregular during perimenopause before stopping altogether at menopause. Where periods are particularly painful, this is a condition known as dysmenorrhea. Missed periods is medically termed amenorrhea, and heavy periods are termed menorrhagia.
At a basic level, irregular periods are probably caused by fluctuations in hormone levels - particularly progesterone and estrogen. These hormones are a key component in triggering ovulation and bleeding. If hormone levels are out of sync, messages get delayed or crossed, resulting in irregular periods. The cause of hormone fluctuations is varied and includes:
Stress: One of the main causes of irregular period. Stress caused by home or work situations. Or stress on the body due to extreme dieting, exercise or illness and travel. See also, what can cause a change in my monthly cycle? as well as dangers of stress in women.
Oligomenorrhea is a medical term to describe changes in frequency of menstrual bleeds where previously periods were predictable. Symptoms of oligomenorrhea are where bleeds occur at greater intervals than 35 days with only 4 to 9 periods per year. Some women with oligomenorrhea have infertility issues and have difficulties in conceiving.
Oligomenorrhea usually occurs in women with polycystic ovary syndrome. This is because women with PCOS have raised levels of levels of male hormones androgens, which causes oligomenorrhea. Oligomenorrhea can also be prompted by emotional and physical stress caused by an eating disorder like anorexia nervosa. Also female athletes often develop the condition if they follow strict diets, exercise to excess and use steroids. Low estrogen levels are also a component of oligomenorrhea and low levels can increase the risk of heart disease in women and osteoporosis in women.
Other causes of Oligomenorrhea include:
1. Uterine disorders such as uterine fibroids, uterine polyps, adenomyosis and endometrial hyperplasia (thickening of the lining of the uterus).
Contact your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following types of bleeding as it may indicate a condition which needs to be treated:
1. You soak a pad or tampon, passing clots, every hour for more than 2 hours.
Assuming there is no underlying condition (as with oligomenorrhea), there may not be very much you can do to treat irregular periods, even after diagnosis. If you experience irregular periods as a teenagers, this usually sorts itself out within a year or two of menarche. Later in life, irregularities may be a sign of menopause, which is a natural part of life. Outside of this, maintaining a healthy weight and diet during your 20s and 30s will help to reduce the likelihood of developing menstrual problems. Avoid excessive exercise and avoid smoking, drinking, recreational drug use and extreme stress. There are also some useful tips in our article on treatment for PMS.
Where a slight hormone imbalance is suspected, your doctor may recommend the contraceptive 'pill' to regulate hormone balance. If oligomenorrhea is suspected, diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause is primary.
|Related Articles on Irregular Periods
For more symptoms of other conditions, see the following:
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