You period will probably never be the most enjoyable week of your month. Well, it might not be so bad if you won the lotto while menstruating, but most likely, it's just a week where you feel a little low-key — or worse. However, that doesn't mean that every single side effect that comes with your period is normal and should be endured bravely. There are definitely times when your period symptoms cross the line into abnormal territory.
Although there's no such thing as a "normal" period, there are some rough guidelines to aim for. A cycle generally lasts anywhere between 21-35 days, and the actual flow of your period can go from 4-8 days. If you consistently land somewhere in these ball parks, you should be in the clear, but don't be surprised if you hit a bump in the road at some point. Thirty percent of menstruating women have irregular periods, and there are all sorts of reasons why this occurs. It could be a hormonal imbalance, uterine abnormalities, or chronic stress. You won't know the reason until you see your doctor.
You don't have to be a medical professional, though, to know when your period symptoms turn from standard to worrisome. Bustle spoke with Alyssa Dweck, M.D., gynecologist in New York, assistant clinical professor OBGYN at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, and author of V is for Vagina, who says, "Women are accustomed to what their periods are like, so if something different comes up, that should spark concern." Anytime you notice something out of the ordinary, dig a little deeper with your doctor to find out what's going on.
Here are eight period symptoms you should get checked out.
1. The Length Of Your Cycle Suddenly Changes
If you've been cruising right along as someone with a 28 day cycle, and out of the blue you fall into a noticeably longer or shorter cycle, call up your doctor. There might be some hormonal changes going on in your body that need attention, or you could be unknowingly harboring include uterine fibroids or polyps. It could also just be that your body is adjusting to a new environment due to travel or moving somewhere new. If that's the case, there's no problem, but it's better to double check and make sure the alternative isn't the case.
2. Your Flow Suddenly Gets Much Heavier
Dr. Dweck says it's cause for concern if you unexpectedly find yourself using more super absorbency pads and tampons. Because the heaviness of your flow is unique to you, you'll know right off the bat when things get bloodier than usual. No matter what your normal period is like, though, anyone who can't get through an hour without changing out a tampon, for fear of leaking all over their clothes, should speak to their doctor. At least, that's how the Center for Disease Prevention and Control defines an abnormally heavy period. Some things that may cause a super heavy flow include kidney problems, hormonal imbalances, or growths or tumors on the uterus.
3. You Start Spotting Between Your Periods
There are a lot of possible causes of spotting in between periods, and Dr. Dweck says you've got to see your provider to figure out which one applies to you. It could be a side effect of the birth control or prescription medications you're currently taking. Other potential complications include endometriosis, STIs, or a thyroid disorder. Dr. Dweck also notes that pregnancy could cause strange spotting when you're not on your period. Go and get tested as soon as you can, because in some cases, spotting hints at an ectopic pregnancy.
4. You Have Your Period For A Really, Really Long Time
Periods that last for an extended period of time are technically called menorrhagia, and it's a condition that could be caused by a hormonal imbalance, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or blood clotting disorders. To be clear, we're not talking about a flow that goes for an extra day or two — menorrhagia causes women to have their period for weeks on end — sometimes, even longer. In many cases, women are too shy to tell anyone that their period has been around for that long. Don't make that mistake, though, because you could be putting your health at risk.
5. Your Cramps Are Unbearably Painful
I know cramps are never fun, but there comes a point when the excruciating pain simply isn't normal. If your menstrual cramps prevent you from going to work or school, or they're not allowing you to get out of bed, you've got a problem on your hands. Intense cramps could mean you've been living with undiagnosed endometriosis or uterine fibroids, so don't wait any longer to speak to your provider. There's no need to live in constant agony.
6. Your Period Blood Has A New, Foul Odor
"Period blood never really smells good," Dr. Dweck admits, "but foul odor can sometimes be the sign of an infection." If the scent has been persistently pungent, you might have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. There's also the possibility you're living with an STI that has gone unnoticed. Keep in mind that your period odors will vary throughout your cycle, so jot down how long you've been experiencing the strong scent. If it's been tickling your nose for several days, go see your OBGYN.
7. You Stop Getting Your Period Altogether
"No period altogether might be something to call your provider about," Dr. Dweck tells Bustle. Obviously, it could mean you're pregnant, but there are other causes that might affect your health. Thyroid disorders, poor diet and extreme stress, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) are all possible culprits of amenorrhea, which is the medical term for having no periods. A general rule to live by is that if you haven't had your period for three months in a row, it's definitely time to speak with a doctor and find out what's going on.
8. Your PMS Symptoms Are So Severe They Interfere With Your Relationships
We've all experienced some emotional distress right before our period that throws us off. We might get irritable with our friends or bicker with our SO. But Dr. Dweck says, "If your PMS symptoms are interfering with your day to day life, your relationships, your self-image," you may be living with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
PMDD is a severe form of PMS that affects up to 10 percent of menstruating women. It's a disorder that causes such potent mood swings, fatigue, and sleep problems that you're not able to live out your day-to-day life normally. One of the first places this shows up is in your personal life. If you notice that your relationships with friends and family is suffering due to how you feel during your period, don't blame it on yourself. Go see your doctor to find out whether you've got PMDD.
The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, Dr. Dweck says we're the ones who know our bodies best. If "something new that pops up, especially if it’s persistent," she recommends not wasting any time to get in touch with a medical professional. Life's too short to live with a debilitating period.
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