Periods: what's normal and what's not

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Whether they are irregular, late, missed, or painful, find out what's normal and what's not when it comes to your period.

Periods: what's normal and what's not
Are irregular periods something to worry about?

What's normal

It's common for women to experience some irregularity. Most women have one or two irregular periods every six months. Hormonal imbalances occuring from heavy exercise, illness, weight loss or gain, and especially stress (emotional or physical) can all result in irregular periods.

While contraception can be used to regulate periods, sometimes they can have the opposite effect. 'Breakthrough bleeds' or small bleeds mid-cycle are common when first starting the contraceptive pill. However, if you've been taking the pill for awhile it can indicate irregular pill-taking. Taking pills at the same time everyday can usually get things back to normal.

What's not

Irregular periods in themselves are usually nothing to worry about, but if you are experiencing other symptoms along with them it could indicate either Polycystic ovarian syndrome or an under-active or over-active thyroid. Very rarely, heavy bleeding between periods coupled with bleeding from intercourse can mean cancer of the cervix or womb.

I don't have a 28-day cycle. Is this normal?

What's normal

Every woman's periods are different. What's normal is what's normal for you. Some women only have a 21-day cycle, others a 35-day cycle.

What's not

If you go longer than two months without having a period and are not pregnant, you may have 'amenhorrea.' This can be a big problem for your reproductive system as it means you're not shedding your uterine lining every month, causing a dangerous build-up of endometrial tissue.

How long should my period be?

What's normal

Again, this is what's normal for you. Some women just spot, others bleed for two days and others for ten. What's not

If this changes and you start going from bleeding from three days to ten, or vice versa you might want to make an appointment with your GP. Irregular periods coupled with other symptoms may mean something more serious.

My periods are quite painful - should I be worried?

What's normal

There's hardly a woman alive who hasn't had severe period pains - in fact 40-70% of women of reproductive age have reported having them. If you use a contraceptive IUD this may be the cause and removing it may help. Otherwise, as long as your pains aren't interfering with your life, work and daily tasks, your pains are normal.

What's not

If you have difficulty coping with work or daily tasks you may want to speak to your GP. Sometimes there is no cause for severe period pains, but sometimes it could be symptomatic of endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease

How much bleeding is too much?

What's normal

While it may seem like you're bleeding an ocean, most women only bleed about 50ml (about a couple of large tablespoons) a month. It may seem like more as the blood is mixed with water and other fluids.

What's not

Bleeding 80ml or more a month (if you soak through a super size tampon within an hour or leak frequently throughout the night) may mean you have menorrhagia. If this is the case make an appointment with your GP.

Want to know more?

While much is considered 'normal' when it comes to periods, if you are in any doubt or need some reassurance make an appointment with your GP.
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