We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? Emma Kaywin, a Brooklyn-based sexual health writer and activist, is here to calm your nerves and answer your questions. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. This week’s topic: why your period might be lighter than normal.
Q: I noticed that a few months ago, my period started getting super light. I used to bleed for like 5-6 days a month, and now I’m down to like one light day and then some spotting for half of the next. At first I was elated, but now I’m starting to get worried. Is this my body’s way of telling me that something’s wrong with my reproductive system? I really want to have kids and I’m freaked that my body is shutting down or something.
A: While getting your period is often not the most exciting or lovely thing that can happen to your body, we do get used to the monthly flow cycle as an indication that things at least appear to be operating normally. If your period is lighter than normal, it can throw you off and make you worried that something is wrong with your body.
Everyone’s menstrual cycle is a little different. However, an average cycle is around three to seven days long. During this time, the amount of fluid you expel from your body is anywhere from 30 to 80 ml on average. If you notice that your cycle is lasting less than two days or is lighter than 30ml (I just mean generally, I’m not asking you to measure it out), then your period is what is called "scanty" or light. If this happens to you for a few cycles, then you have hypomenorrhea, which is the scientific term for chronically light periods.
What is our body trying to tell us with a light period all of a sudden? There are actually a bunch of reasons why this could be happening, and luckily, most aren’t scary.
1. You Were Born This Way
Some people just naturally have super light periods. Seriously, it can run in your family. If that’s the case, you don’t have to worry — it’s just how you are naturally. There’s also a chance that your uterine lining could be malformed, because of how your uterus grew when you were becoming a full human. This is something your doctor would have to check.
2. Your Hormones Are Out Of Balance
Your menstrual cycle is orchestrated in large part by two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. These hormones dip and rise throughout your cycle in a complicated rollercoaster dance. If you have an imbalance of these hormones, it makes sense that your menstrual cycle would get altered as a result. For instance, estrogen is in charge of the lining of your uterus. So if you have lower levels of this hormone, your lining might not thicken enough for you to have a full period. Having too much of the hormone testosterone can also cause your period to be scanty.
To learn more about your hormone levels, you’ll have to get your doctor to test them. If you are dealing with hormonal imbalance, your doctor may prescribe hormones for you to take to even yourself out.
3. Your Uterine Lining Is Struggling
Low estrogen isn’t the only reason your uterine lining could be thinner than usual. If you have a scar on your uterus (like if you’ve had surgery there), it could damage the tissue that thickens each month and then sloughs off to cause your monthly flow, making your period lighter as a result. There’s also a disease of the uterus called Asherman’s Syndrome, which causes adhesions inside your uterus. Often the only symptom of this super rare disease is hypomenorrhea, so if you’re experiencing scanty flow, your doctor may want to check to see if you have it.
4. You Are Underweight
Your body needs a certain amount of fat to be able to menstruate. This makes sense evolutionarily, since your body will focus on its own health first instead of readying itself to maybe grow another human (which is what your menstrual cycle is all about, let’s not forget). If you have low body weight, you could be causing your menstrual cycle to diminish or even press the pause button. This is only for extreme weight loss, like if you start working out a ton, lose lots of weight all of a sudden, or are dealing with an eating disorder.
5. You’re Stressed
Stress causes all manner of reproductive health problems. When you’re stressed, your body releases two hormones: adrenaline, and cortisol. These chemicals upset the balance of your other hormones, some of which are the ones in charge of your reproductive system. Specifically, cortisol impacts how much estrogen and progesterone your body makes. So if you’re stressed and your body is flooded with cortisol as a result, your period can come late or even be skipped.
6. You Have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
Another reason why your period might be scanty is polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS for short. This is a common disorder of your endocrine system that causes your hormones to become imbalanced. If you have this syndrome, you most likely have lots of small cysts on your ovaries that can cause the hormonal imbalance, causing excess hair, acne, obesity, and scanty periods. So if in addition to a light period you have these other symptoms, you might want to ask your doctor to check your ovaries for cysts.
7. You’re On Hormonal Birth Control
If you’re on hormonal birth control, a side effect might be that your period gets lighter or even goes away. This is actually often discussed as a perk of long-acting reversible contraception options, such as the IUD or implant. However, it can also happen if you are on the oral birth control pill continuously. The reason for this is called endometrial atrophy, which is when your uterine lining gets thinner over time.
8. You Have Hyperthyroidism
Your thyroid controls how your cells metabolize energy, which affects your body in a bunch of ways. If you have hyperthyroidism, that means that your thyroid gland is overproducing thyroid hormone. This makes your body speed up and can cause you to feel nervous and anxious, have trouble sleeping, or lose weight. It can also cause your period to be lighter or less frequent than usual.
9. You’re Pregnant
If you are pregnant, you’re not going to get your period. In fact, that’s one of the main ways we know we’re pregnant — we skip a period. However, the flow doesn’t turn off right away for everyone — some people get spotting for the first couple months. So if your period becomes light all of the sudden and you could be pregnant, go get a pregnancy test.
You should also make sure you don’t have an ectopic pregnancy, which is when the egg and sperm meet up, but instead of implanting safely in your uterus, they implant in an incorrect spot — like your fallopian tubes. This is a super dangerous situation, so make sure that you’re not experiencing this type of pregnancy. One of the signs that you’re experiencing an ectopic pregnancy is light spotting.
10. You’re On Your Way To Menopause
If you’re in the age range where you might start menopause and you notice that your periods are getting lighter, that could be a sign that you’re in perimenopause, which is the technical term for almost-at-menopause. Your period doesn’t shut off all of a sudden; it slows down over a period of months. And in this slow-down time frame, your period will be scanty. This is totally normal.
Is A Light Period Dangerous?
Most times, scanty bleeding isn’t serious; most of these causes are easily fixable. However, it’s important to know the underlying reason for your light period, so that you can fix it (and to rule out the more medically serious causes).
It’s also important to know if the reason for your hypomenorrhea could potentially cause infertility. (But just because your period is light doesn’t mean you can’t have a baby; as long as your body is still ovulating, you should be fine.) But if you want to make a new human in the future, make sure you follow up with your doctor about your hypomenorrhea to protect your baby-making capabilities.
Having a light flow can be stressful if you think that it’s a sign your body is struggling. And in some cases, this could be true. However, in many cases, hypomenorrhea is not dangerous. In these cases, having a scanty period can be a blessing — I mean hello, ruining fewer panties! So check with your doctor to make sure that your hypomenorrhea isn’t going to impact your health. If you have an underlying condition that requires medical attention, she will help you get treatment. If not, continue living your life, knowing your body is functioning as it should.
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