Often we think of periods as occurring once per month; in fact, the word “menstruation” is from the Latin word mensis, for “month.” While some of us do have periods that occur exactly every month, others have cycles that are longer or shorter. Counting from the first day of one period to the first day of the next, most cycles last between 23 and 36 days. For teens, the variation can be even broader.
You may have consistently regular cycles (bleeding every 28 or 35 days, for instance), or your cycle may vary in length from one cycle to the next.
Causes Of Abnormal Cycles
The main reason for an abnormal menstrual cycle length is changes in hormone levels. However, it also can be caused by a number medical conditions as wells. A buildup of the uterine lining, cancer of the uterus, fibroids, polyps, thyroid or pituitary disorders, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, lupus, pregnancy complications, changes in birth control medication, certain medications, uterine infections, bleeding disorders and a recent trauma, surgery or other uterine procedure may all cause a woman’s menstrual cycles to be longer or shorter than average. Stress, travel, illness or changes in weight, diet or exercise may also cause abnormal menstrual cycle lengths.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Doctors will typically run tests if they are unable to determine why a woman’s menstrual cycle length is longer or shorter than usual. Physical exams and blood tests are common, but doctors may run a number of other diagnostic tests as well. The types of tests done will vary depending upon a woman’s medical history and background but may include an ultrasound, endometrial biopsy, pregnancy test, hysteroscopy, laparoscopy or a dilation and curettage. While treatment will depend upon the results of these tests, possible treatments include hormone treatments, medication or surgery.
What can I do to prevent menstrual irregularities?
For some women, use of birth control pills can help regulate menstrual cycles. Treatment for any underlying problems, such as an eating disorder, also might help. However, some menstrual irregularities can’t be prevented.
In addition, consult your health care provider if:
1. Your periods suddenly stop for more than 90 days — and you’re not pregnant
2. Your periods become erratic after having been regular
3. You bleed for more than seven days
4. You bleed more heavily than usual or soak through more than one pad or tampon every hour or two
5. Your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
6. You bleed between periods
7. You develop severe pain during your period
8. You suddenly get a fever and feel sick after using tampons
Remember, tracking your menstrual cycle can help you find out what’s normal for you and what isn’t. If you have questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle, talk to your health care provider.