The menstrual period is considered to be a sign of having a regular and healthy reproductive system. However, what is considered to be ‘normal’ for one person might not be ‘normal’ for another. The definition of what a normal period looks like varies from woman to woman. However, there are certain period symptoms that you should never ignore, regardless of how regular or irregular your periods are. Let’s take a look at what these symptoms are.
5 Period Symptoms You Should Never Ignore
Here are certain period symptoms that you should not ignore and report to your doctor at the earliest.
Irregular or Skipped Periods
Some women just have a more regular schedule of periods than others. (1) However, most women, though, end up getting a period every 21 to 28 days. (2) If you suddenly find that your periods have stopped, there can be many reasons for it, with one possibility being pregnancy. Of course, a pregnancy test can easily and quickly answer that.
If you have successfully determined that pregnancy is not the case behind your missed periods, then some other reasons that can cause you to miss a period may include:
- Significant weight loss or intense exercise: Too much of exercising can have a direct effect on your hormone levels that are responsible for controlling your menstrual cycle. When you end up losing too much of your body fat through exercise or through diet, your periods might stop completely. You need to have a certain healthy level of body fat in order for the body to continue making the hormones that control your menstrual cycle.
- Excessive weight gain: Just as losing weight can throw off your cycle, similarly, gaining a lot of weight can also throw off the balance of hormones in the body, thus disrupting your menstrual cycle.
- Taking birth control pills for too long: While birth control pills keep providing a continuous dose of hormones to the body to regulate your menstrual cycle, in some cases, they can also stop your periods altogether.
- Extreme stress: Being under extreme pressure can make your periods stop.
- PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome): If you have PCOS, then it causes a hormonal imbalance in the body, which leads to irregular periods. It also causes cysts to grow in the ovaries.
- Perimenopause: Some women in their late 40s or early 50s might be in the perimenopause. Perimenopause is the time period that leads up to menopause. During this period, the levels of estrogen in the body start to decline. Once your periods stop for 12 straight months (3), then you officially enter the stage of menopause. However, in the years leading up to menopause, you will find that your periods will fluctuate a lot.
Gray Tissue or Large Clots
If you experience large clots or gray tissue, then it could well be a sign that you are not experiencing a period at all. In fact, the presence of large clots or the presence of gray-colored tissue could indicate that you are having a miscarriage. When you experience a miscarriage very early in pregnancy (4), such as within two weeks, then it becomes difficult to tell whether you are experiencing a normal menstrual period or if you had a miscarriage. This is especially common if you occasionally or frequently experience painful or heavy periods.
However, a miscarriage that occurs later into pregnancy has different symptoms than a menstrual period. Bleeding from a late-stage miscarriage will also contain fetal tissue along with large blood clots. The tissue will also look different from your regular menstrual blood. For example, it may appear gray in color, and also have a different consistency, texture, and shape.
The volume of period blood differs from woman to woman. It is generally believed that you have menorrhagia, or abnormally heavy menstrual flow if you soak through one or more tampons or pads within one hour. If you have menorrhagia, then along with the heavy bleeding, you will also have other signs such as fatigue, shortness of breath, and symptoms of anemia.
Once in a while, having a heavy period is common, and it is estimated that one-third of women end up consulting their doctor regarding a heavy menstrual flow. (5)
Some of the causes of heavy menstrual bleeding may include:
- Hormonal Imbalance: Certain medical conditions such as PCOS or having an underactive thyroid gland (a condition known as hypothyroidism) can also cause a disruption in your hormone production. Such types of hormonal changes in the body can cause the lining of the uterus to thicken more than usual, leading to heavier bleeding during your periods.
- Endometriosis: Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissue lining the uterus (known as the endometrium) to start growing in other parts of the pelvis. This can include your fallopian tubes, the ovaries, and even the bowel in some cases. In normal conditions, every month in your uterus, the endometrium thickens and swells up and then it is shed during your menstrual period. However, when you have the endometrium growing in other organs, the tissue has nowhere to go. Endometriosis is known to be a very painful condition, and you need to seek treatment for the same if you suspect you might be suffering from this condition. (6)
- Polyps or fibroids: Fibroids or polyps can also cause heavier than usual bleeding. Fibroids are non-cancerous growths of fibrous and muscle tissue that grow on the wall of the uterus. Women between the ages of 35 and 50 are at a higher risk of developing fibroids. They cause heavy menstrual bleeding accompanied with clots. On the other hand, uterine polyps are overgrowths of endometrial tissue that lines the uterus. They are also benign growths like fibroids and can cause heavy periods. (7)
- Adenomyosis: Adenomyosis is a condition that is similar to endometriosis (8). Adenomyosis happens when the endometrium that is normally supposed to line the uterus starts growing into the uterine wall. Since there is nowhere for the extra tissue to go, it starts to build up and causes pain. Adenomyosis is known to cause symptoms such as heavy periods, bleeding even when you are not about to have your periods, and even infertility. Women with adenomyosis may also have endometriosis.
- Having an IUD (intrauterine device): IUDs are a popular birth control method that can also be a cause of heavy bleeding as a side effect. This is especially true during the first year when you start using it. (9) An IUD is a T-shaped device that is inserted into your uterus by the doctor. There are either copper IUDs or hormonal IUDs such as Mirena. They are so popular because they are over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. (10)
- Pregnancy complications: Having an abnormally heavy period flow can also be a sign of a miscarriage or even an ectopic pregnancy. Sometimes you can have a miscarriage so early that you might not even realize you were pregnant.
- Bleeding disorders: Some types of inherited conditions, such as the Von Willebrand disease, can have an effect on blood clotting. These bleeding disorders are known to lead to unusually heavy bleeding during your period.
- Cancer: Cervical or uterine cancer is also known to cause heavy bleeding, but these cancers usually tend to be diagnosed after menopause.
Every woman thinks of cramps as being a normal part of their periods. Cramps are typically caused by uterine contractions that help to push out the uterine lining. Cramps usually start within a day or two before you start bleeding and last for the next two to four days. (11)
While some women experience mild cramps that are not bothersome, others tend to have more severe cramps. This condition is known as dysmenorrhea, and it can also be a potential cause of heavy bleeding.
Some of the other causes of having painful cramps during your periods include:
- Having an IUD
- Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
Experiencing Bleeding between Periods
It is common for some women to experience spotting or bleeding in between their periods. There are some reasons why you might be experiencing bleeding between your menstrual cycle. Some of the causes, such as changing your birth control, are not serious, whereas some other causes require you to visit your doctor.
Some of the causes of experiencing bleeding between your periods include:
- STDs such as gonorrhea or chlamydia
- Changing or skipping birth control pills
- Injury to the vagina, possibly during intercourse
- Fibroids or uterine polyps
- Miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy
- Ovarian, cervical or uterine cancer
If any of these symptoms are out of the ordinary for you, then it might indicate that you have PID or any other medical condition. It is always best to consult your doctor if you experience any of the above-mentioned symptoms. It might just be something as minor as changing your birth control, but in case it is a serious issue, then it is always better that you get an early diagnosis.
- Creinin, M.D., Keverline, S. and Meyn, L.A., 2004. How regular is regular? An analysis of menstrual cycle regularity. Contraception, 70(4), pp.289-292.
- nhs.uk. (2019). Stopped or missed periods. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stopped-or-missed-periods/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Menopause.org. (2019). Perimenopause, Early Menopause Symptoms | The North American Menopause Society, NAMS. [online] Available at: https://www.menopause.org/for-women/menopauseflashes/menopause-symptoms-and-treatments/menopause-101-a-primer-for-the-perimenopausal [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- nhs.uk. (2019). Miscarriage. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/miscarriage/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Acog.org. (2019). Heavy Menstrual Bleeding – ACOG. [online] Available at: https://www.acog.org/Patients/FAQs/Heavy-Menstrual-Bleeding [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Obgyn.ucla.edu. (2019). Endometriosis: What is Endometriosis? Endometriosis Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis – UCLA. [online] Available at: http://obgyn.ucla.edu/endometriosis [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019]. https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/heavy-bleeding-fibroids-and-polyps
- Publishing, H. (2019). Ask the doctor: Heavy bleeding, fibroids, and polyps – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/heavy-bleeding-fibroids-and-polyps [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Medicalxpress.com. (2019). Adenomyosis causes pain, heavy periods and infertility but you’ve probably never heard of it. [online] Available at: https://medicalxpress.com/news/2018-11-adenomyosis-pain-heavy-periods-infertility.html [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Helloclue.com. (2019). Bleeding on the IUD. [online] Available at: https://helloclue.com/articles/sex/bleeding-on-iud [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Plannedparenthood.org. (2019). IUD Birth Control | Info About Mirena & Paragard IUDs. [online] Available at: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/birth-control/iud [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
- Center for Young Women’s Health. (2019). Painful Periods (Dysmenorrhea). [online] Available at: https://youngwomenshealth.org/2013/08/22/painful-periods/ [Accessed 12 Aug. 2019].
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