What Is A ‘Normal’ Period?
There are a number of things that women can experience during their period, so what are they and how might they affect you?
Most girls get their first period when they’re between 10 and 15 years old. The average age is 12, but every girl’s body has its own schedule and they can start as young as 8.
Over your hormonal lifetime that is a probable 480 cycles up to peri menopause, but there are so many variants that can occur during the monthly cycle, and what may seem normal to you could be unusual for someone else.
So let’s take a look at the what most women experience and you can check whether they apply to you.
Fluctuating hormone levels, and oestrogen dominance, can have a number of effects including:
– a consistently heavy flow can be caused by thyroid issues, fibroids or polyps
– headaches and breast tenderness can be attributed to hormonal fluctuation
– missed periods are triggered by stress but a long cycle can be perfectly normal
Missed periods are most commonly caused by stress, but bleeding between periods or directly after sex is not normal and should be investigated to rule out serious health issues like cancer.
Premenstrual headaches and breast tenderness are caused by hormonal imbalances, often to oestrogen, but intense cramping that disrupts your daily life should be examined.
Severe cramping and bleeding between periods should always be investigated but cramps, migraines and heavy bleeding are widely accepted as standard side effects of the menstrual cycle.
But you shouldn’t settle for pain and discomfort but investigate how best to help yourself, and consult with your doctor.
A sudden increase in the volume of your period could be a sign of underlying issues like hypothyroidism, uterine fibroids, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or polyps, which are abnormal growths of tissue in the cervix.
If you need to line your bed with towels, or you’re ‘flooding’ through sanitary products overnight, that’s significant bleeding and you should consult with your GP.
Between 20-30ml is the average flow of a healthy period, which should be easily contained with pads or tampons, but not both used together.
In young women, an unusually heavy period is often the first sign of a bleeding disorder, which are now believed to be more common than we originally thought.
Prolonged heavy periods can lead to iron deficiency, which affects hair, teeth and nail strength and causes fatigue.
Irregular and missed periods
Irregular periods are perfectly normal for many women, but sudden changes in frequency are always worth investigating.
The average cycle is 28 days long and you have a period that lasts between four and seven days. But not everyone has a 28 day cycle – lots of women have 21 day cycles, and some have anywhere up to 35.
Your cycle is individual to your body clock so if it is usual for you that’s fine, but it’s changes in the timeline of your period that you need to watch for.
And while a range of health issues can cause missed periods – the most obvious being pregnancy – stress is often the biggest culprit.
Stress is no respecter of age and in younger women this is often liked to exams, relationships and applying for new jobs. But at menopause is more related to dealing with life changes and stressful symptoms such as hot flushes and interrupted sleep.
Bleeding between periods
Bleeding between periods or directly after sex is ‘never normal’, and could be a sign of serious health issues.
This is one of the hallmark symptoms of endometriosis, and the same goes for bleeding after intercourse.
Any unexplained bleeding must be checked by a doctor or gynaecologist – it could be the only sign of precancerous cells.
This is one of the most talked about period complaints, but if you’re having pain that’s interfering with your daily life that shouldn’t be accepted or put up with.
There is no doubt there is a certain level of pain and discomfort women are willing to accept during their period, but if you’re having pain, don’t accept it.
Cervical infection, polyps, fibroids and endometriosis are all possible causes of severe cramping so speak to your doctor and ask for a referral to a gynaecologist if they can’t help you.
Headaches and migraines
Headaches just before the start of a period are known as ‘menstrual migraines’ and caused by rapidly fluctuating hormones, mainly oestrogen.
Sudden increases and withdrawals of oestrogen increase the reactivity of blood vessels in the brain, triggering spasms which cause headaches.
While many women experience menstrual migraines each month, those who suffer from headaches while taking the combined contraceptive pill should consult with a doctor to confirm the medication is suitable for their needs.
The pill can make migraines worse for some women and lessen them for others. Three weeks out of every month, they keep the hormones in your body steady.
When you take placebo pills or no pills at all, during the week of your period, your oestrogen levels plummet and your head can pound.
If you’re prone to hormonal headache or migraines, taking birth control that contains low amounts of oestrogen may help.
There is a strong link between hormones and migraines and Dr. Uzi Reiss, in his book, “Natural Hormone Balance for Women”, advocates treating Pre-Menstrual Migraines with bioidentical oestrogen and progesterone which stabilises hormone levels.
What many women find effective is to use Serenity from days 14-23 of their cycle (day 1 being the first day of their bleed) and then 20-1 with its combined progesterone and oestrogen content from days 24-28.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms that many women experience one to two weeks before their period. But while PMS is part and parcel of monthly periods, it shouldn’t get in the way of your daily routine.
Bloating, diarrhoea, mood swings and breast tenderness are common side effects, with most of these caused by normal hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle.
If PMS symptoms are impacting your life, that’s not acceptable or normal and severe cases should be discussed with a doctor. However there’s a wide variety of natural remedies for milder issues.
Many women find that supplementing with bioidentical progesterone can help, as it is not uncommon to be menstruating but not ovulating and so producing no progesterone at all.
It can also help with mood swings and the bloating/breast tenderness that are frequently seen in PMS.
The colour of menstrual blood varies throughout the cycle, transitioning from a brighter red to a dark shade of brown but while a change in shade can be alarming, it’s usually nothing to worry about.
Brown blood is older blood that’s been in the uterus for longer, while red blood is fresher and hasn’t had a chance to oxidise, a chemical reaction which causes the change in colour.
This is frequently seen when shedding old, retained, endometrial lining which can have been in the body for some time and may be triggered by rebalancing the hormones.
Some women on first using progesterone can experience this and it is normally temporary and healthy to shed this old blood.
Clotting is also a normal part of a period, but consistently large clots should be investigated to rule out underlying issues like hypothyroidism, fibroids and anaemia.
A ‘normal’ period is clearly not something that applies to every woman, as every woman is different in both cycle length, type of bleeding and symptoms experienced.
Hormone imbalance and stress are clearly two major factors that influence your cycle so investigate how best you can help yourself, and don’t hesitate to see your doctor if you are concerned.
If you know that stress is a particular factor for you, then this article will also be helpful.