Women who miss their periods for a month or more secretly rejoice. They don’t have to change pads, worry about leaks, or suffer from cramps for a whole extra month! But an irregular period can be a sign that something is wrong with the body.
Women have periods, almost like clockwork, for a reason. This is the healthiest way for the body to release eggs. A regular schedule also determines when a woman ovulates to help increase her chances of getting pregnant. An irregular schedule not only throws off ovulation, but it can also become difficult to prepare for a period when it comes.
It can be tough to narrow down what's causing a woman’s period to be late. There are numerous triggers for an irregular period, so a woman should look at any recent changes in her own body to help determine a cause. She should also talk to her doctor as soon as possible to make sure there isn’t something serious going on.
You shouldn’t take an irregular period as being “normal,” unless your doctor specifically states that it might be the norm for you. Some women do naturally get irregular periods, which can be linked to genetics or hormones. But, if you’ve recently become irregular, or you haven’t talked to your doctor about your irregular periods, it’s time to do so.
These 15 triggers for an irregular period are among the most common.
It’s been debated about whether or not women can still have periods throughout their pregnancies. Some women continue to have a period for a month or so after conceiving, and others bleed irregularly throughout their pregnancy. Others have no sign of a period as soon as they become pregnant.
Professionals acknowledge that it’s absolutely possible to have bleeding throughout your pregnancy – but this isn’t a period. The vaginal bleeding just mirrors a period so much that it can be tricky to tell the difference between the two, so it just gets marked as a “period.”
In fact, this vaginal bleeding is thought to be the cause of implantation bleeding - when the egg attaches itself to the uterine wall. You may also have some bleeding after your doctor performs cervical or pelvic exams. A slight amount of spotting during pregnancy can be normal, but if you’re seeing a lot of blood, it’s time to talk to your doctor.
14Recently Having Had A Baby
If you had a baby recently, your period can take several weeks, or months, to get back on track, and it may be irregular once it does come back. Every woman’s cycle is different, and each pregnancy is different, so it’s impossible to tell when your cycle will regulate.
According to BellyBelly, the majority of women get their periods back after about 10 weeks post-childbirth, if they aren’t breastfeeding. But, even then, the period can be lighter or heavier than usual, or its length may be longer or shorter than what you’re used to. It could take several more weeks to get your period back on track, like it was pre-pregnancy.
You should expect that, sometime within the first year of your baby’s birth, your period should return to normal. If it doesn’t, talk to your doctor about your options and to rule out anything serious.
Although the common cold may not affect your period, a more serious illness might. If you’ve come down with something, like the flu, that can keep you bedridden and less active for a few days, you may temporarily notice an irregular period for that month and the month after.
Anytime your body is going through something it’s not used to, that puts stress on the body. When there’s stress on the body, you are more prone to an irregular period, since menstruation typically relies on the body being in optimal condition to perform at its best.
If you have the flu, you may be vomiting or have a high fever, both of which can interrupt your menstrual cycle temporarily. However, if, after a month, you’re still experiencing an irregular period, you’ll want to get checked out by your doctor. The flu, or other common illnesses, should not have a long-term effect on your period.
Those who gain a large amount of weight over time may not notice the impact it has on their periods. However, women who are overweight tend to have more irregular periods than those at healthy weights. Additionally, those who have gained weight very rapidly in recent months may suddenly notice more irregular periods.
Why does weight have anything to do with it? When your body is in its optimal condition – including a healthy weight – it naturally produces the estrogen that triggers regular, monthly periods. But, overweight women have extra fat cells that can produce estrone, a form of estrogen that mimics pregnancy.
So, although you’re not pregnant, your body acts like it is. This can cause your period to stop, but blood will still accumulate by your uterine wall and will eventually make its appearance as an extremely heavy period.
If you believe your weight is the culprit, it’s important to start losing some weight, especially body fat, to get your period back on track.
Everyone experiences stress at one point or another. If you’re worrying about passing tomorrow’s math test, chances are your period won’t be affected. But, if you’re seriously struggling to pay bills and wondering how you’ll pay for your car this month, you may be stressing yourself to an irregular period.
Although it’s not known exactly why stress can have such a significant effect on your period, there is a definite connection. Medical professionals believe that it has something to do with the effects that stress has on the hypothalamus, a gland responsible for controlling hormones in the body.
Stress has the power to suppress this gland, which can affect the production of estrogen, leading to missed or irregular periods. If you’ve been more stressed than usual and are noticing a change in your periods, try to find some ways to cope with your stress. Take walks, grab some alone time, or talk to someone you trust.
10Taking Birth Control
With so many types of birth control available, it’s difficult to predict which one may be the best for your body, or what effects each type will have on you. Sometimes, it takes a trial and error process to find the birth control that works best.
Birth control can either regulate your period or cause it to become irregular. Some women stop having their period altogether. Depending on the type of birth control, this is completely normal due to the hormonal changes that birth control causes in your body.
In fact, doctors can prescribe birth control to some women who suffer from extremely heavy, or painful, periods. Soon after starting birth control, these women may notice more regular, lighter periods with lessened cramps and other side effects.
Some birth control methods are specifically designed to make you get your period a few times per year instead of monthly. Before settling on any birth control, make sure you do your research on the effects it can have on your period.
Breastfeeding provides one of the most natural ways to delay menstruation altogether after having a baby. Some women experience no period during the length of time they breastfeed regularly, and some experience only intermittent spotting during this time. The typical timeframe for a regular period to begin again when you’re breastfeeding is about 6 months postpartum.
When you breastfeed, the process signals to your brain that your baby needs your full attention on him. Therefore, your body will stop trying to ovulate because it won’t see a need for you to create another baby. Once breastfeeding slows down when you decide to wean your baby, your periods may pick back up to normal.
Once you regain your period, it’s still completely safe to breastfeed. This is just your body’s way of telling you it’s ready for another baby when you are.
8Being Very Active
Do you ever wonder how professional athletes deal with their periods when it’s game time. How do they just do what they do without worrying about pads, tampons, cramps, and all the other things that come along with a period?
The truth is, they probably don’t have to deal with it. Many very active women end up skipping their periods altogether. Think of it as the body’s natural response to extreme exercise and training – as if it knows that you need all your focus on training, not having a baby. It’s pretty remarkable when you think about it.
Women with moderate activity levels, like those who exercise a few times a week, usually have their periods. The more active you become, the more likely it is that your period will become irregular, or stop altogether. This is caused by the stress that strenuous training and exercise puts on your body, which affects your hormone levels.
7Having An Eating Disorder
Any extreme change in your diet can affect your period. Eating disorders can make women lose weight fast and stop providing their bodies with adequate nutrition to allow menstruation to occur. Anorexia and bulimia are the two most common types of eating disorders to affect women and their periods.
Anorexia is a condition that affects many adolescent girls and women and causes them to stop eating. Bulimia, which is more common than anorexia, causes one to overeat and then throw up the food to help control weight.
Both of these disorders can be extremely destructive to the body and its natural processes. When you have an eating disorder, you are essentially depriving your body of the nutrients it needs to carry out its normal processes, like ovulation. Missing your period, or having irregular periods, for an extended amount of time is also unhealthy for your body and your reproductive system.
6Losing A Lot Of Weight
You don’t have to lose a lot of weight from an eating disorder for your body to be affected and your periods to become irregular. If you decided to lose weight and you aren’t doing it at a healthy pace, you may temporarily see an increase in irregular periods, or missed periods altogether.
This is due to the stress that unhealthy weight loss puts on your body. If you’re losing weight through extreme dieting, the lack of healthy nutrients in your body could lead to your irregular periods. If your weight loss is due to over-exercising, the stress from being very active can affect your period’s regularity.
The average person should lose only one to two pounds per week to maintain a healthy weight loss. Any more than this, and you could be putting yourself at risk for an affected menstrual cycle and other health problems.
5Smoking, Drinking Alcohol, Or Using Drugs
We all know that smoking, drinking, and using drugs are bad for our health. Yet, many women continue to do at least one of these regularly. Did you know that, aside from the obvious health risks, they can also pose a risk to your fertility?
If you drink regularly, you may notice irregular periods because of alcohol’s ability to mess with the estrogen and testosterone levels in your body. For most women, regular alcohol use causes a prolonged period or more severe cramps. Smoking typically does the opposite, causing shorter periods for regular smokers.
Most illegal drugs have a significant impact on the body and overall health. When it comes to your period, doing drugs regularly can stop your period or cause extremely erratic cycles. Drugs can even alter your ovulation process completely, causing fertility issues if you do want to get pregnant.
4Having A Pelvic Disorder
There are a number of disorders that can affect the reproductive cycle of women, causing irregular periods. Uterine polyps or fibroids are among the most common. These are uterine growths that are usually benign, but can cause severe period cramping and irregular periods.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID) is an infection usually caused by sexual intercourse and affects the genital tract and uterus. PID can cause irregular periods until it’s cleared, usually from antibiotics.
A more serious disorder, known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), causes the ovaries to make male hormones, known as androgens. This affects a woman’s ovulation and menstruation, usually causing her to have irregular periods, or stop having them at all.
If you are experiencing unexplained irregular periods combined with other symptoms, like pelvic pain, discharge, nausea, or fatigue, talk to your doctor to rule out a pelvic disorder.
3Having A Poor Diet
Your diet has a lot to do with your period regularity as it directly effects your overall health and hormone production. Therefore, it’s important to always talk to your doctor before trying out any new diet.
You may think that cutting out fat is the best way to go to lose weight. After all, you’re trying to lose weight to not be fat, so why eat fat? Fat is actually essential to proper hormone production in your body. Of course, eating the right kind of fat is important. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids help regulate hormone production to decrease the risk of depression, anxiety, and stress – all of which can lead to irregular periods.
Also, controlling your fiber intake can ensure your body is creating the right amount of estrogen. Too much fiber decreases estrogen production, throwing your period out of whack. The daily recommended fiber intake is between 25 and 30 grams.
If you’re a woman with diabetes, your period is one of the many bodily processes that can become affected by the disorder. Those with diabetes tend to have much more irregular periods than women without diabetes, or they may stop their periods altogether.
Diabetes effects the body’s ability to produce insulin and process sugars within the body. This can put a lot of stress on the body, as it fights to regulate its sugars through proper diet and medication. Diabetes also causes excess androgens, or male hormones, which can influence the reproductive cycle. Those with diabetes also tend to be overweight, which causes irregular periods as well.
Women with Type 1 diabetes usually have longer and heavier periods than the average woman, and may begin menopause earlier than most women. In contrast, women with Type 2 diabetes tend to have large gaps between periods, or have shorter periods when they do occur.
1Having Hormonal Imbalances
Of course, the menstrual cycle all boils down to hormones. As wacky as they may be, hormones are what helps a woman’s menstrual cycle stay on track. If you suffer from a hormonal imbalance, it stands to reason that your period may become irregular, or stop completely.
Some women have genetic factors that influence their hormones. In this case, your doctor will be able to give you advice on how to regulate your hormones through diet, lifestyle changes, or medications. In very rare cases, hormonal imbalances cannot be corrected, and you may need to look into fertility treatments, or other reproductive options, if you want to become pregnant.
Or, your lifestyle could be the culprit. Excessive partiers, worriers, or exercisers, for example, are more at risk for creating hormonal imbalances in the body that can affect their periods. In these cases, it’s important to make tweaks to your lifestyle to keep your period regular for optimal reproductive health.
Sources: BabyCenter, BellyBelly, ClevelandClinic, DoctorNDTV, GalTime, EverydayHealth, Healthline, HelloFlo, LaLecheLeague, MedicalDaily, PAMF, UByKotex, WhatToExpect
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