As you grow older, your menstrual cycle also undergoes some profound changes – decade by decade. Even on a monthly basis, many women notice that their menstrual flow keeps changing – one month it’s late, the next it’s early, from heavy flow to light flow, there are many changes that a woman experiences on every month during the one week of their periods. Changes to your menstrual cycle can be hard to predict and are also not that easy to deal with. Getting used to them is the only thing one can do. However, as you get older, your periods will keep evolving and adjusting owing to regular age-related hormonal changes in the body, as well as life changes such as pregnancy and perimenopause. We take an in-depth look at how your periods change as you grow old – this will give you a better idea of what you should expect in the coming years as well as identify something that might not be quite right.
How Your Periods Change As You Grow Old?
Periods During the Tweens and Teen Years
On average, women get their first period when they are around 12 years old age(1). This is just an average age, and many get it a couple of years older or younger, which is also absolutely normal. The age when you get your first period depends on many factors(2), including your body mass index (BMI), what type of foods you eat, your genetics, how much you exercise, and even the location where you live. During the first few years, it is common for your period flow to be unpredictable and irregular. You might even go months without getting any hint of it, and then suddenly, you might start to bleed.
The beginning of the menses is also known as menarche and is very much similar to menopause because, at this initial stage, girls do not tend to ovulate.
The menstrual cycle is regulated by our hormones, and that too quite a few of them. The physical experience of getting a period including the signs and symptoms such as cramps, bleeding, tender breasts, and emotional swings, all are governed by the amount of hormones the body releases at any given time. Two hormones, in particular, are responsible for dictating the menstrual cycle – estrogen and progesterone.
The hormone estrogen boosts the growth of the lining of the uterus, and progesterone is responsible for regulating this growth. During the period when you are not ovulating, there is no regulatory control of the hormone progesterone. This is why, during the starting years, you get the irregular periods. Sometimes you will get them and sometimes you won’t. Then you can also get heavy and intermittent bleeding.
In the teenage years, it is common to feel confused, shy, and sometimes even frustrated about your periods, and it is perfectly natural to feel like this. It is a brand new experience and also a messy affair.
Periods In Your 20s
When you start your periods, they tend to be all over the place. However, with time, they tend to settle down more or less. Your 20s are considered to be the most fertile period of your life. This is the time period during which your body is most ready and preparing to have a baby. For most women, this translates to mean that their menstrual cycles will be most regular.
After going through the menarche stage, you begin to ovulate, and once you start ovulating, if there is nothing abnormal going on, you will notice that your periods become more regular and there will be a set pattern every month.
With changing times as women are waiting longer and longer to have children(3), women are using birth control to prevent pregnancy. Birth control is also known to work towards regulating your menstrual cycle, especially if your periods were irregular before. However, keep in mind that it can take you some time to find the right type of birth control that best suits your body and our purpose.
Depending on the type of contraceptive and your health, in some people starting birth control might also give rise to all types of changes. Sometimes the changes can be so negative that you are forced to switch the type of birth control.
Sometimes, the pill, one of the most commonly used forms of birth control, can even cause your periods to disappear altogether. This is because birth control pills prevent ovulation from happening, and without ovulation, there is no buildup of the uterine lining and therefore nothing to shed. As a result – no periods!
Periods In Your 30s
By the time you enter this decade of your life, your menstruation cycle should be quite predictable and consistent. Symptoms such as more intense pain than your regular cramps or a sudden heavier flow are now likely going to be a sign of a bigger issue. Beginning growths, known as fibroids, which leads to heavier bleeding during periods, becomes a common possibility once you reach your 30s. Also, endometriosis is another possibility that can occur in this decade. Endometriosis is usually marked by severe pain that might even last for the entire month and is frequently diagnosed in women in their 30s.
Another game-changing factor that usually happens in your 30s is having babies. Most women conceive during this decade and getting pregnant, of course, means that your periods will go missing in action for at least the next nine months. However, many women do not realize that periods don’t make a comeback until about six weeks post-delivery if you are not breastfeeding your baby. If you are breastfeeding, then your period might not make a comeback until you reduce the number of times you are nursing or until you stop nursing completely.(4)
Additionally, delivering a baby might also cause certain long-term changes and shifts in your menstrual cycle. Most women claim that after their pregnancy, they experienced lesser cramps when they got their periods. While this can be caused due to a number of factors, it is most likely because of the fact that the cervical opening becomes bigger and the period flow is able to come out without requiring any type of strong uterine contractions. This is seen as a huge relief for women who have been troubled by severe stomach cramps during their periods.
Periods In Your 40s
Once you reach your 40s, it marks the beginning of the perimenopausal hormonal fluctuations. This period is the precursor to menopause. During this decade, typically eight to ten years before menopause, your body starts preparing for the finish line of menstruation. Menopause can usually happen anytime during the early 50s to late 50s.
Regular hormone changes start causing ovulation to become more and more irregular, and the fluctuations in the levels of estrogen mean that you will start missing your periods, sometimes you may get a heavier flow, and even experience spotting between periods. You may also be prone to longer stretches of PMS. Keep in mind that at this stage, nothing is predictable. Even if your ovulation is erratic, you still can become pregnant, so don’t forget to continue taking your birth control.
A woman is not deemed to be in menopause until periods stop for at least one year.
Regardless of what your age is, your periods offer a great deal of insight into your overall health. So if you start experiencing certain unusual signs and symptoms, make sure that you check in with your doctor. Having very irregular periods or experiencing any type of drastic change to your menstrual flow might be an indication of polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), thyroid issues, or a number of other medical conditions and should not be neglected or ignored.
- Chumlea WC, e. (2019). Age at menarche and racial comparisons in US girls. – PubMed – NCBI. [online] Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12509562 [Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].
- Karapanou, O. and Papadimitriou, A., 2010. Determinants of menarche. Reproductive Biology and Endocrinology, 8(1), p.115.
- Cdc.gov. (2019). Products – Data Briefs – Number 320 – September 2018. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db323.htm [Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].
- Cdc.gov. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/vsrr/report002.pdf [Accessed 6 Jun. 2019].
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