Menstruation 101: Understanding Your Monthly Period
Posted: 02 February 2013
Having periods can, at times, bring discomfort to most women, mainly because of the premenstrual syndromes they encounter. For some, the situation is even more aggravated if menstruation becomes irregular.
Often a topic by groups of women, irregular periods are one of the most common menstrual complaints around. In general, this condition doesn't pose any setback, but on rare occasions, it can be a sign of health problems.
On the average, women menstruate between 11 and 13 times each year. In some cases, however, you may menstruate between 20 or 35 days interval, depending on your body and hormones. A chart is most helpful in determining if your periods are regular. If the trend shows roughly the same number of days between each cycle, then you have a regular period. Typically, a regular period lasts for about 5 days, but it is perfectly normal to menstruate for between 3 and 7 days.
On the other hand, about 30% of women in their reproductive years are affected by the irregular periods. It is when your bleeding is abnormal compared to a usual menstrual cycle. It may include early or late periods or bleeding in between periods. It can also be heavy bleeding (menorrhagia) or sparse bleeding, missed or continuous (more than 7 days) periods, or when you menstruate twice in a cycle.
To produce a period, your body generates hormones, like eostrogen and progesterone which are stored in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries. They send signals to one another in order to trigger an ovulation, or eventually, a menstruation. However, when they are not synchronized, irregular periods can happen.
What causes the hormones to be out of sync are mainly because of the following reasons:
1. Pregnancy - this is probably the most common reason for missed periods, since your body will be generating different levels of hormones which cause pregnancy symptoms, including an end to your period.
2. Stress - aside from getting pregnant, stress is one great contributory factor to irregular periods. If you are too worried, worked up and are too anxious, then your hormones become unbalanced.
3. Diet - extreme weight loss or gain, or a poor diet often leads to abnormal periods, as evidenced by women who have anorexia or bulimia.
4. Menarche - during the early stages of a woman's menstrual cycle, it may take several months to years before the hormones are controlled and ultimately reach a balance or a regular menstrual cycle.
5. Excessive alcohol consumption - too much alcohol intake can disrupt your hormonal metabolism, resulting to missed periods.
6. Hormonal birth control pills - if you are taking birth control pills, your body needs to adjust to the new levels of hormones associated with it. Hence, irregular periods are likely to happen.
7. Menopause - when a woman's ovaries permanently cease to function, hormones excreted to trigger ovulation will no longer take place, signalling the end of a fertile phase of a woman's life, and eventually the end of monthly periods.
For the majority of women, such irregular periods don't come with any complications, as they will likely to develop another regular cycle. Other cases, however, are caused by the underlying health conditions.
For instance, if you haven't had any period for over a year, or you have particularly abnormal menstruation, see your health care professional right away. Other factors you may consider to seek help from your health care provider are extreme cramping, heavy period bleeding, dizziness or fainting.
Two of the fairly common health complications associated with irregular periods are polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), which is affecting about 10% of women. PCOS causes cyst to form in the ovaries, affecting the regular ovulation. Symptoms of PCOS include excessive hair growth, weight gain, acne, dandruff, high blood pressure and infertility.
If you have any of these symptoms, it is best to have yourself checked for PCOS. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications such as endometriosis, heart disease and ovarian cancer.
And inflammatory bowel disease, on the other hand, is the inflammation of the lower intestines, or the bowel, and can cause irregular periods. Other symptoms of this disease include weight loss, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. At times, inflammatory bowel diseases can become sever and would require hospitalization for surgery. Should you encounter these symptoms, have yourself checked immediately.
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