Irregular Periods: When to See a Doctor - UnityPoint Health

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Why Am I Having Irregular Periods?

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woman holding tampon; Why Am I Having Irregular Periods?

Ladies, has your body seemed a little off since this pandemic started? Some women may be experiencing an irregular menstrual cycle. Melinda Hansen, MD, tells us what the cause might be and why it’s likely more normal than you think.

What Are Some Causes of Irregular Periods?

“A ‘normal’ interval between your menstrual cycle, or period, is 24 to 35 days between the first day of one period and the first day of the next,” Dr. Hansen says. “Some people have the same interval every month, and for others, it varies from month to month. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days with the average length of bleeding usually from five to seven days.”

Dr. Hansen identifies five causes of irregular periods.

  • Stress. Stress hormones keep the ovaries from ovulating, thereby delaying the period.
  • Weight Change. Quick weight loss or gain can delay ovulation, changing the interval between periods.
  • Medications. Certain medicine can interfere with the ovulation process and delay the menstrual cycle.
  • Illness. Acute illness including respiratory or gastrointestinal infection could impact ovulation and cause menstrual irregularities.
  • Surgery. Undergoing surgery of any kind can affect ovulation and the menstrual cycle.

What’s Causing Irregular Periods During COVID-19?

“During this pandemic, I believe stress would be the most likely culprit to change someone’s menstrual cycle. When we are under emotional stress, our stress hormone (cortisol) levels rise, and this can prevent ovulation, thereby affecting the menstrual cycle,” Dr. Hansen says.

Dr. Hansen says she doesn’t know the percentage of women who are experiencing irregular periods during the pandemic, but that it’s probably pretty common.

“Women who are on any kind of hormonal contraceptive, either to prevent pregnancy or regulate bleeding, would be less likely to experience irregular periods due to stress or any other factor. This is because their periods are regulated by the medication rather than their internal hormone fluctuations.”

When Should I See a Doctor About Irregular Period Symptoms?

“If your period comes a few days earlier or a few days later than usual, it’s not usually concerning. Even having your period come a week late isn’t too uncommon. Some women might occasionally notice they skip a whole menstrual cycle and then resume regular monthly cycles again. These are rarely signs of something concerning or dangerous,” Dr. Hansen says.

However, she suggests if you’re sexually active and your period is later than usual, you should take a pregnancy test as a precaution. It’s a good idea even if you’re using a form of birth control or if you or your partner has undergone surgical sterilization.

When is it Best to See the Doctor?

Dr. Hansen says if your periods are consistently irregular, she’d recommend seeing your doctor or gynecologist. Here is what to watch for:

  • Consistently having periods closer than 24 days apart
  • Consistently having periods longer than seven days
  • Consistently going two months between periods (for women not on hormonal medication)
  • Consistently having bleeding between periods (for women not on hormonal medication)
  • Consistently noticing heavy bleeding (requiring a pad or tampon change every hour)

“If women are bleeding too much or too often, they can lose so much blood they develop low blood count (anemia). This can result in unusual fatigue and even fainting,” Dr. Hansen says.

She also often suggests getting your thyroid tested if you’ve noticed changes to your period. Thyroid disorders and polycystic ovarian syndrome are the most common medical conditions that impact the menstrual cycle.

“If needed, there are medications for irregular periods including oral contraceptives, Depo-Provera injections, oral progesterone and progesterone containing IUDs (intrauterine device). Come see us and we’ll figure out what’s right for you,” Dr. Hansen says.