Most of us think we know ourselves pretty well. But how well do you really know yourself? Here’s a test: When was the first day of your last period?
You may recognize this question from your last visit to your OBGYN. If you’re like many women, you struggled to provide an answer. The truth is, if you don’t know what’s going on with your menstrual cycle, then you are missing out on an important part of knowing yourself. Your menstrual cycle can tell you a lot about your body, so get to know it more intimately.
How well do you know your period?
Some of us recognize our monthly visitor by the symptoms we experience each month before its arrival. More than 80 percent of women have cramps, mood swings, bloating, or other symptoms in the days leading up to their periods, and these symptoms can vary from woman to woman, from mild to severe. Severe emotional and physical symptoms that interfere with daily life signal a condition called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which may require medication or treatment.
A typical menstrual cycle, or the time between periods, occurs every 21 to 35 days, and a normal period lasts from three to seven days. However, more than 30 percent of women experience irregular periods during their childbearing years. A period is considered irregular if it occurs more frequently than every 21 days, or lasts longer than eight days. Experiencing irregular cycles can be perfectly normal, but in some cases it can signal something is wrong.
Is my period irregular?
To determine whether your period is irregular, count the number of days between the last day of one period and the start of the next. Do this for three consecutive months. An online resource (imensies.com) or a mobile app (iPeriod for iPhone or Pink Pad for Android) can help you track your menstrual cycle month to month and can even help predict your upcoming periods.
If you’ve always had regular periods and your periods suddenly change, this may indicate something is going on with your body. Changes in your period can be caused by a variety of factors. Have you started taking a new medicine? Have you been stressed out at work recently? Has your diet or exercise routine changed? Could you be pregnant? Any of these factors could lead to a change in your menstrual cycle. If you answered “None of the above” you may want to see your doctor to rule out a more serious problem.
What if I miss a period or two?
Missing one or more periods when you are expecting them is called amenorrhea. Amenorrhea can happen as a result of excessive exercise, sudden change in weight, stress, illness, not eating enough, a new medication, a hormonal imbalance, and pregnancy. If this occurs for three or more months you should contact your doctor.
What about pain during my period?
Severe pain during your periods is called dysmenorrhea and could be due to endometriosis or fibroids. No woman should have to suffer extreme pain during her period, so consult your doctor for a diagnosis if pain occurs. Medication, pain management, or surgery can be used as treatments.
Is spotting normal?
Spotting occurs when you have light vaginal bleeding between periods and can be a normal occurrence. In fact, most women will experience spotting at some point in their life. Spotting can be a usual occurrence, but it can sometimes signify an underlying problem. Unusual menstrual bleeding, which includes bleeding (more heavily) between periods and periods that are too frequent or too heavy—soaking through one pad in a hour or less—is cause for concern. Unusual menstrual bleeding can include:
Light spotting for three or more cycles
Bleeding for more than three consecutive days between periods
Bleeding more frequently than every three weeks
Heavy bleeding after sex
An unusual change in your normal bleeding pattern
Bleeding after menopause
If you experience any of these symptoms you should contact your doctor.
Getting to know your menstrual cycle is an important part of getting to know yourself. Tracking your cycle can help you catch the early warning signs if something is wrong. It can also clue you in to why you crave that extra dessert or why you’re short-tempered with your coworkers. It’s not always your fault—your hormones may be to blame, so get to know them better. They’ll tell you a lot about yourself if you let them.