Periods: If they come, it’s a problem. If they don’t come, it’s a bigger problem!
On the one hand, you can’t help but be annoyed that you have to go through 5 days of being uncomfortable and changing through several bright, red-stained napkins. And, on the other, you get panicky if they’re even a day late.
Questions like “Am I pregnant?” or “Is there something wrong with me?” start running through your mind at the speed of light the moment there’s even the slightest delay in your periods!
But here’s the thing, usually there’s not much to be alarmed about. Even though 28 days is accepted as the common standard for a period cycle, that number can stretch up to 35 days or come down to 21 and still be called normal (1).
However, it’s when your periods become irregular that there arises a cause for concern.
What Are Irregular Periods?
Irregular periods are not just consistently early or consistently delayed periods. Irregular periods cover a host of irregularities in your menstrual cycle. Basically, any odd symptom that does normally take place when you’re on your periods comes under the purview of irregular periods (2).
Irregular periods are fairly common, and at certain stages of your life, they are even considered to be normal. For example, when you’re an adolescent and get periods for the first time, or when you hit menopause in your late 40s or early 50s.
However, if you experience sudden irregularities despite having a normal cycle, that’s when you need to look into the possible causes behind them and figure out a solution to your problem. That said, before you go about looking for a cure, you need to know whether your periods are actually irregular or not.
The 4 Very Important Giveaway Signs Of Irregular Periods
1. A Fishy Smell
If you notice a fishy odor emanating from your vaginal area, you can suspect it to be caused by increased bacterial reproduction. This means that you’re probably suffering from a vaginal infection and should seek medical help as soon as possible as such infections are known to cause irregularities in your menstrual cycle. Furthermore, they can lead to complications by any type of injuries.
2. Very Early Or Highly Delayed Periods
As mentioned before, a normal menstrual cycle can last anywhere between 21 and 35 days. Now that’s normal only if your menstrual cycle follows a set number of days each month. For example, for most women, it’s a 28-day cycle and the onset of the next period takes place only after 28 days of the first day of menstruation. It’s when you break away from this pattern all of a sudden that irregular periods take place. So, if you notice a very early or a much-delayed onset of your next period consistently, you might be suffering from irregular periods.
3. Increased/Decreased Number Of Days Of Periods
Another telltale sign of irregular periods is a change in your number of period days. Typically periods last anywhere between 3 and 8 days, with the average being 5 days (3). However, if your periods last beyond a week or end before 3 days (which is not normally the case), you might be suffering from irregular periods.
4. Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Lastly, irregular periods are characterized by excessively heavy or more than the usual amount of bleeding. Though a number cannot be put on this, as a woman, you know the amount of menstrual bleeding that is normal for you. If you notice a sudden increase in menstrual bleeding, or feel the need to change your pad or tampon every hour, you have irregular periods.
Other Symptoms Of Irregular Or Abnormal Periods
Apart from the above symptoms, there are more not-so-obvious signs that indicate an abnormal or irregular menstrual cycle (4):
- Missing your periods for three straight months in a row.
- Radical mood swings.
- Periods along with excessive pain or feeling of nausea or vomiting.
- Spotting or bleeding in between your periods
Causes Of Irregular Periods
There are quite a few causes of irregular periods, such as:
- Hormonal imbalances are the commonest cause of irregular periods for most women. Hormonal conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a prominent one to watch out for.
- Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia can also upset your menstrual cycle, leading to reduced or even missed periods.
- Female athletes who indulge in high-performance sports can also have irregular menstrual cycles and, in certain cases, absent periods as well (5).
- Often, if you’re very stressed on a regular basis or suffer from depression, you are likely to have irregular periods (6).
- Regular use of contraceptive pills or having an IUD (intrauterine device) can also lead to irregular periods.
Irregular periods may sound extremely scary but they can be fixed. Especially if you take action soon. So, if you notice any signs of irregular periods, be sure to get in touch with your gynecologist immediately.
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