Getting your period is probably not your favorite time of the month, but if you experience irregular periods, it can be even more frustrating than usual. Not only are irregular periods annoying in the sense that they are more difficult to predict and, therefore, more difficult to prepare for, they can also come with more severe PMS symptoms, heavier flows or longer-than-normal lifespans.
7 Common Causes for Irregular Periods
One of the reasons we advocate observing your routine wellness check up with your OB/GYN is that she will be able to help you determine whether your periods are, in fact, irregular. If so, she’ll help your figure out why. In most cases, skipped or irregular periods are not signs of a serious health condition. However, irregular periods can be a symptom of an imbalance or latent issue that needs to be addressed – especially if you plan to have children someday.
For the purposes of this article, we’re skipping the, “You’re Pregnant!” reason. If you skip a period, and haven’t been much of a period skipper, take a home pregnancy test but still schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to check in and assess what’s up.
- Endometriosis. This is one of the most common causes of irregular periods, typically expressing in heavier than normal, longer than normal and/or more painful than normal periods. Endometriosis affects more than 5 million women in America, and is one of the leading causes of infertility, which is one reason why it is so important to have it diagnosed. While it isn’t always treatable, there are things your doctor can do to minimize the physical discomforts and help regulate your periods so they are more manageable.
- Weight fluctuations. Typically, missed or ultra-light periods are a sign that a woman may be underweight. If your body mass index (BMI) dips below 18 or 19, you may start skipping periods. Did you go on a super diet? Are you skipping meals or getting by on minimum calories to lose weight? Are you training for a marathon or other high-intensity athletic event? All of these can also trigger missed, spotty or unusually light periods. Do note, however, that obesity can also trigger irregular periods – partly due to the relationship between insulin sensitivity and hormone production.
- Hormonal birth control. There are multiple forms of hormonal birth control that can cause really light or missed periods (often considered one of their best side effects!). Lighter-dose birth control pills are an example. The Depo-Provera shot often causes women to cease menstruating altogether. IUDs and implants can have a similar effect. Even so, we recommend bringing up missed periods at your next wellness checkup so your doctor can determine whether your birth control is the most likely culprit.
- Menopause – regular or premature. Our culture is living longer than ever, and staying more active longer than ever, which can cause us to forget how old we really are (39 and holding, anyone?). While the average age of menopause in the U.S. is around 51, irregular menstrual cycles and other symptoms of menopause often begin years before that, which can cause skipped periods in your 40s. Early menopause, although rare, is another cause of irregular periods. If anyone in your family has experienced early menopause, you are more likely to experience it as well. Your doctor can check hormone levels to determine if this is the culprit. In most cases, early menopause wouldn’t be considered unless your missed periods were happening in your 30s – although it can happen sooner. Read, “What’s So Bad About Early Menopause Anyway?” to learn more.
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This condition has gone undiagnosed and misdiagnosed for decades. It is only recently – due to the advent of infertility diagnosis and research on the human endocrine (hormone) system – that the official PCOS label has finally come to fruition. Irregular periods is one of the most consistent symptoms of PCOS, as is the inability to get pregnant. While there is no “cure” to speak of at this point, diet and lifestyle changes can certainly help, so the sooner it is diagnosed, the better.
- Stress. Is there any negative side-effect that can’t be linked to stress? Stress is flat-out bad for you and your body. Its powerful tentacles seem to reach into every aspect of your life, from sleep and eating habits, to digestive ailments, a compromised immune system and even your body’s reproductive system. Unfortunately, we have yet to come up with a diagnostic test for how much stress is too much, and whether it is the cause of your irregular periods. However, your doctor will be able to explore other physical “knowns” to determine whether stress may be the cause of your menstrual woes.
- Existing medical conditions. There are also plenty of other medical conditions or health-related causes for concern that can affect how often you menstruate. These include things like thyroid function, diabetes, reproductive anatomical abnormalities, celiac disease, or certain types of cancer. This is the last conclusion you want to jump to, however, so make an appointment with your OB/GYN for a professional diagnosis.
Ready to get to the bottom of your menstrual cycle irregularities and/or missed periods? Schedule an appointment with us here at Women’s Health Associates.