5 Period Symptoms That Mean It's Time To Visit The Doctor
For people who menstruate, that monthly visit is rarely a joyous event. Even for those who are fortunate enough to have short, cramp-less periods, menstruating is never anything anyone would call fun. But one of the good things that comes with menstruation is that, like the rest of your body, certain period symptoms can let you know if things are running smoothly, or if something isn't right. When this happens, it's time to go to the doctor to see what the issue is.
"Monthly periods are normal; some experience cramps and discomfort while others don’t," Dr. Savita Ginde, a physician and vice president of medical affairs at Stride Community Health Center, tells Bustle. As Ginde explains, because pain and discomfort are individual experiences in what one can tolerate, it's when these symptoms start to impact your life that it's time to consider being evaluated.
However, because all bodies are different, it's up to you to decide what symptoms are "normal" for your menstrual cycle and your body. This is especially true if things that were once bearable, like pain and blood flow, have gotten worse with time or suddenly. That's why it's important to pay attention to your body and what it's trying to tell you.
Here are five period symptoms that should have you visiting your doctor.
1. Heavy Bleeding
While some people are lucky enough to have light bleeding during their period, others have heavy bleeding, defined as losing more than 80 milliliters of blood per period, or a period that lasts more than seven days. But when it comes to bleeding, it's about what's normal for you. If you've had light periods your whole menstruating life and they suddenly get heavy, that's a sign something is up.
"Heavy periods are common, and some people will have naturally heavier periods than others," Dr. Jennifer Dhingra, National Health Service doctor, sexual health advocate, and youth education expert, tells Bustle. "Signs that you have heavy bleeding may include needing to change your sanitary products more often (every one to two hours), or passing blood clots larger than two centimeters."
Far too often, people who menstruate are conditioned to accept what comes with having a period, when the reality is that some symptoms — like cramps, for example — can be debilitating. When these heavy periods start affecting your daily life, you definitely want to see a doctor. A medical professional can check out the situation and weigh in on what it could possibly be — although there's not always a reason.
"Though the cause [of heavy bleeding] is unknown for many people, your health care professional may want to rule out other conditions such as uterine fibroids or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)," Dhingra says. "Your health care professional will also be able to provide you with information and support on how to manage your heavy periods, and help you decide what treatment is best for you."
2. Irregular Periods
For some people, having an irregular period is just how their body rolls, but the same can't be said for everybody. Similar to changes in menstrual blood flow, if a once-regular period become unpredictable, showing up pretty much whenever it wants, it's a sign that something isn't right.
"Irregular periods can be a sign of PCOS," Dr. Hedieh Asadi, co-founder of DeoDoc, an intimate hygiene skin care line, tells Bustle. PCOS is the result of ovaries that have accumulated small cysts due to an imbalance of hormones. Although the exact cause of PCOS is unknown, it may be genetic, as many of those who are affected have a family member who also has it.
But the only way to know if this is the cause of your irregular periods is by going to the doctor to either rule it out as a possibility or address that this is the case. PCOS can be detected during a pelvic exam, as well as a blood test and ultrasound. Treatment could involve either medication or lifestyle changes, or both.
3. Bleeding Between Periods
While spotting between periods is very common, when it turns into bleeding, it could be indicative of a health issue.
"Though bleeding between periods can occur for many reasons, it is important to consult your GP or health care professional in case there is a need for any further investigations," Dhingra says.
According to Dhingra, reasons for this bleeding — which is different from spotting once you need to use sanitary products to prevent leaking — could be anything from menopause, to stress, to just starting a hormonal contraception, to having to take emergency contraception. But if this bleeding between periods persists, it could be a sign of something more serious.
"Irregular bleeding, including bleeding after sex, can be a sign of other issues, such as sexually transmitted infections, vaginal atrophy, uterine fibroids, or sometimes cancers of the uterus or cervix," Dhingra says. "Keeping up-to-date with sexual health checks and cervical [cancer] screening may therefore help with early diagnosis, and result in faster treatment and management of symptoms."
4. Severe Mood Swings
Although mood swings during the one's menstrual cycle are to be expected, severe mood swings are a different story. In these cases, irritability, anxiety, and feelings of depression are intensified, with even the possibility of suicidal ideation. This could indicate Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
"For those who suffer from PMDD, their hormonal symptoms are intense and disrupt their daily lives," Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, MFT, ATR, a licensed psychotherapist and owner of Create Your Life Studio, tells Bustle. "Including their work lives, school lives, and social lives, especially their interpersonal relationships."
While it's important to go see your doctor if these mood swings are having a negative effect on your life, Scott-Hudson does point out that medication or lifestyle changes can help manage this condition. Medications such as antidepressants have been found to help PMDD. As for lifestyle changes, exercising and relaxation techniques can help, too.
5. Painful Periods
Although it's not uncommon to experience pain during periods — from cramps to headaches and menstrual migraines to all-over body aches — if it becomes severe and can no longer be managed by over-the-counter pain relievers, then that's something that should be addressed.
"[Your GP] may be able to prescribe stronger pain relief, and also advise you as to whether you may require any further tests or investigations," Dhingra says. "Though it is not always known why some people experience more severe pain than others, your health care professional may want to exclude the possibility of conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease."
And, should the reason for this pain be none of above, then they can at least prescribe something stronger or recommend another treatment. No one should have to suffer because of period pains.
Periods may come with their fair share of negative symptoms, but it doesn't have to be that way. Recognizing that your body is trying to tell you that something isn't working the way it should is the first step. The second is consulting your doctor to remedy a painful and possibly debilitating situation.