What Your Period Says About Your Health
From puberty through to menopause your period changes and some of those changes can be significant for your health.
Lots of things about your period, such as how often you get it, how long it lasts, and how heavy your flow is, can be different for every woman.
Some of them can offer important clues to what’s going on in your body – but not if you use a hormonal method of birth control or an IUD as with them you can’t rely on your period to tell you as much.
Pay attention to what’s normal and healthy for you so you can pick up on early signs of trouble and this is what you need to watch out for.
About a third of women complain about this and in this context heavy means changing your tampon or pad every hour or so or during the night, having periods that last for more than a week, or passing blood clots bigger than an inch.
Problems with your reproductive organs or hormones, an infection like pelvic inflammatory disease, some blood disorders, blood-thinning medicines (including aspirin), or a copper IUD are possible causes.
Heavy flow and tiredness
When you lose blood through heavy periods, you’re losing red blood cells, and that can lead to iron-deficiency anemia.
One study found 5% of women of childbearing age are affected. If you’re short of breath, feeling weak and fatigued, look pale, and have a rapid heartbeat, too, let your doctor know.
A simple blood test can tell you if you need treatment.
The most common cause is pregnancy, but stress, a hormone imbalance, being underweight, scar tissue, and some medications can also stop periods. Also it’s not unusual to be irregular when you’re close to menopause.
If you’ve skipped three in a row, see your doctor and o. other symptoms you have will help them decide how best to help.
For example, extra hair growth, acne, and trouble controlling your weight, too, suggest polycystic ovary syndrome and hormone imbalance such as low progesterone levels.
Getting your period as often as every 3 weeks could still be normal. It may take a couple of years after your first period to settle into a schedule — anywhere from 24 to 38 days.
More exercise, weight loss, and stress can change your cycle, too. If your periods start less than 24 days apart, check with your doctor.
Bleeding between periods
Growths in and around your uterus (such as endometriosis, fibroids, or polyps), problems with your hormones or the type of birth control pill you’re using, and STDs (including chlamydia and gonorrhoea) can be responsible for blood between period.
Some women will even spot a little bit 10-14 days after they get pregnant. Since it could be so many things, you should talk to your doctor.
Fresh blood at the beginning of your period is usually bright red. A heavy flow could be darker, especially with clots.
Rusty brown blood is older; what you’ll typically see toward the end of the week because the air has had a chance to react with it. Pinkish is probably just a light period.
Darker blood at menopause can also be a sign of the healthy shedding of old, retained, endometrial lining – and can be stimulated when first supplementing progesterone.
Period related cramps
More than half of menstruating women hurt in their low belly, thighs, or back for a day or two every month, just before or as the bleeding starts. Some women also feel queasy and tired or have diarrhoea.
Cramps are caused by the muscle contractions of your uterus as it tightens and relaxes to get rid of the lining. Fortunately, these tend to get better as you get older, and they may stop after you have a baby.
Some cramps start earlier in your cycle and last longer. And you generally don’t feel sick in any other way because of them.
These aren’t normal and need to be checked by your doctor. The lining of your uterus may be growing where it shouldn’t (endometriosis or adenomyosis), you may have fibroids or you could have pelvic inflammatory disease, a serious infection that can lead to infertility and long-term pain.
Problems on the toilet
Does it hurt when you pee or have a bowel movement, or do you have diarrhoea or constipation, while you’re on your period?
These may be things that help point your doctor toward a diagnosis of endometriosis, especially when you have other symptoms, like heavy periods or bad cramps.
Regular early headaches
A headache around the start of your period every month could be related to the drop in your oestrogen level or the release of prostaglandin. It’s called a menstrual migraine.
You may not recognize it as a migraine because there’s no aura and it lasts longer than other types. Anti-inflammatory painkillers may help prevent them.
Frequent migraines can also be associated with low thyroid function and even low blood sugar can be a causative factor in some cases.
Bleeding post menopause
This may be from uterine polyps, and younger women can get them, but they’re more common in women who aren’t having periods anymore.
These growths are related to your oestrogen level, so you may also get them if you’re taking oestrogen only HRT not balanced by progesterone or tamoxifen for breast cancer.
Polyps might become cancer, and endometrial cancer can cause heavy post-menopausal bleeding.
Your hormone levels are a significant factor in affecting your periods and knowing what is ‘normal’ for you helps you establish when things are not right.
Keep a check on your period cycle – use a diary if it helps – and note if anything unusual is occurring. If it is then do check with your doctor.