What Is A ‘Normal’ Period?
Periods are so variable throughout a woman’s life, this guide may help.
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 her 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 most experiences and you can check whether they apply to you.
Fluctuating hormone levels, and oestrogen dominance, can have a nmber 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 fluctuations
- 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 women 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 20ml and 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 and 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, so you ovulate on day 14 and have a period on day 21 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. In young women, this is often liked to exams, sporting fixtures and applying for new jobs but stress can impact your cycle at any point in life so check yourself for signs of anxiety or increased nerves.
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 and best to consult with a doctor, even if your last cervical screen came back clear.
Any unexplained bleeding checked by a doctor or gynaecologist – it could be the only sign of precancerous cells.
Cramping is one of the most talked about period complaints, but if you’re having pain that’s interfering with your daily life – causing you to miss days at work or school – that shouldn’t be accepted or put up with.
There is no doubt a certain level of pain and discomfort women are willing to accept during their period, but 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 gynaecologis if they can’t help you.
HEADACHES AND MIGRAINES
Headaches just before the start of a period are known as ‘menstrual migraines’, which are 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, women who suffer from headaches while taking the combined contraceptive pill should consult with a doctor to confirm the medication is suitable for their needs.
There are certain types of contraceptive pill that people prone to migraines can’t take, because they increase the risk of stroke and while that does not mean you can’t have contraception, you may just need something without oestrogen.
INTENSE PREMENSTRUAL SYNDROME
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 complaints should be discussed with a doctor, but 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.
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.