Signs Your Irregular Periods Could Mean Something More Serious

Just as your biology or health teacher drilled into your head in high school, periods pretty much run like clockwork for people with uteruses. Every 28 to 35 days, uterus-havers can usually expect a visit from Aunt Flo if they are not pregnant.

Periods are cyclical, but not everyone experiences regular menstruation. Around 14 to 25% of the menstruating population is found to have irregular periods, meaning the period between their menstruations falls outside the 21- to 35-day range, which is what is considered standard. Verywell Family also points out that if your cycle is within the normal range but has a discrepancy of seven to nine days each time, then it's considered irregular.

Now, irregular periods are not always a cause for concern, and may even be pretty standard for some people, especially those in the pre-menopausal stage or those with thyroid issues. You may also experience irregular periods when you're stressed or fatigued, switching birth control, have undergone a drastic weight change, or are in postpartum. Since your period is indicative of your overall health, you should be closely monitoring it. If you notice that your menstrual cycle has become erratic, even when you are already having irregular periods, you may want to consult a health professional.

When to call a doctor

You'll know if you might have a different health issue if you notice that your period cycles have consistently been showing signs of irregularities for three or more consecutive months. If your periods suddenly become painful, you experience bleeding between periods, or if your Shark Week has become abnormally short, long, or heavy, then take it as a sign to book an appointment with your physician.

Dr. AnnaMaria Maples, an OB-GYN, told Self that irregular periods are usually a symptom of hormonal imbalance. "It's important to have regular exposure to progesterone and estrogen," she said. "Naturally, ovaries make these hormones, and together they impact the menstrual cycle." Additionally, Dr. Pixie McKenna, a general physician, shared with Women's Health that when there's a disruption in estrogen levels, your bone health will be adversely impacted.

Irregular periods may also indicate that you have polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS. But aside from an unpredictable cycle, people with PCOS also often exhibit other symptoms, including weight gain, acne, excessive hair growth, and issues with fertility. If left untreated, Dr. Andrew Thompson, an endocrine surgeon, pointed out to Refinery29, it can lead to a host of other health concerns. He said, "While common, PCOS largely goes undiagnosed, and while women with PCOS don't necessarily have a higher mortality rate, they are at an increased risk of developing more serious conditions later in life, such as Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and endometrial cancer."

How are periods regulated?

Doctors should only be the people in charge of devising a plan to regulate your periods, and more often than not, that plan usually requires some form of medication. For instance, if it was found that you have PCOS, Medical News Today notes that you may be prescribed metformin. If you have a hormonal imbalance, you may be advised to undergo hormone therapy, too. Talk therapy may be recommended if stress and anxiety are what trigger your irregular periods, while nutritional therapy or a diet plan may be advised if it's caused by excessive weight loss or gain. In more severe cases, surgery may be part of treatment, especially if there is something to be controlled in or removed from your uterus, according to Healthline.

If your irregular period is triggered by certain lifestyle changes, however, there are also things you can do to get your period back to normal. That includes getting sufficient sleep, eating a balanced diet, engaging in regular exercise, and removing yourself from stress-inducing environments. You can also look into different forms of birth control, but you should always enlist the help of a doctor to find the contraceptive that works best for you.