7 "Embarrassing" Issues With Your Period That You Should Never Ignore
Some health issues and bodily functions can be difficult to talk about — especially when you're one-on-one with a doctor, in a tiny room, with overhead lights shining down from above. This might not feel like the most comfortable situation in which to talk about things like a super heavy menstrual flow, or the fact your moods are all over the place. But, when it comes to your cycle, there are some period symptoms not to ignore, even if it seems embarrassing to discuss. It's important to remember that your doctor or OB/GYN has heard it all before.
By allowing yourself to feel comfortable discussing all the things your body might be doing, you'll be giving your doctor all the info they need to give you a full health assessment, and get to the bottom of certain issues — before they have a chance to get worse.
"You should be able to speak with your OB/GYN about anything," Dr. Angela Jones, OB/GYN and Astroglide’s resident sexual health advisor, tells Bustle. "If you don’t feel this level of comfort, perhaps you aren’t seeing the correct OB/GYN. There is nothing too embarrassing to present to [them]. Believe me, we’ve seen a lot!"
So go ahead and spill the truth, whatever it may be. "Our job is to help you lead your best, most healthy life," Dr. Jones says. "Without having all the information, it puts us at a disadvantage as well as compromises your care. ... Most issues are quick, easy, fixes. But prolonging diagnoses due to embarrassment or withholding information puts you and your health at risk." Here are a few "taboo" period symptoms that may be tough to blurt out, but are important to share, for the sake of your health.
1. Having A Heavy Flow
It might be uncomfortable to admit that you constantly soak through pads and tampons. But this is something your OB/GYN will definitely need to know about it, and is certainly something you should feel free to discuss.
"Any and all abnormal bleeding issues should be discussed with your physician at your annual visit," Cindy Basinski, MD, FACOG, FPMRS, an ambassador for the We Hate Heavy Periods Campaign, tells Bustle. "Your physician can detect clues about a potential serious underlying problem just by listening to you and offer further evaluation/treatment."
A heavy flow isn't always a bad thing, but it's something you'll want to have evaluated all the same. "Abnormal bleeding could be related to just hormonal imbalances that are common but could be serious issues like unintended pregnancy or STDs," Basinski says. So don't hesitate to get more information, and speak with your doctor about the solution.
2. Periods That Go On And On
According to the Mayo Clinic, menstrual flow might occur every 21 to 35 days and last two to seven days, so your period could be over and done with in a day or two. Or, it might linger on for a week. Anything beyond that should be brought to your OB/GYN's attention.
"Periods lasting longer than seven days, or periods that cause you to bleed so heavily that you are soaking through your clothes, can’t leave the house, or go to school ... could be a sign of something more significant," says Dr. Jones. "Whether it be something such as a polyp or a fibroid (both structural things that can cause severe bleeding or even spotting in between cycles), [it] could lead to anemia, pain, or could be a sign of abnormal/precancerous cells." Especially in the case of the latter, the sooner you can seek treatment, the better.
3. Intense Mood Swings
It's common to experience mood swings in the lead up to your period. But if they're intense, or seem to be disrupting your daily life, definitely let your doctor know.
"Mood swings that are so significant ... could be something known as PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder)," Dr. Jones says. "Mood lability this extreme ... should be discussed with your OB/GYN as there are ways to curb such symptoms." Once your doctor gets to the bottom of the issue, you can come up with a plan to help you feel better.
4. Agonizing Cramps
Having cramps during PMS, or during the first few days of your period, is a common side effect of your monthly cycle. It may be worth it to see your doctor, however, if these cramps have you doubling over in agony, or are so bad that they're preventing you from going about your day.
"There are a number of issues that could be the cause, including a hormonal imbalance, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis (displaced endometrial tissue), a non-hormonal IUD, and in some cases, cancer," Ann Mullen, director of Health Education at Cycle Technologies, tells Bustle. "These are serious conditions and you should not hesitate to consult with your doctor if you experience heavy bleeding or extreme pain. If you cannot tolerate your menstrual cramps, do not think that you are a 'cry baby.' Pain can be a warning signal and needs to be listed to."
5. Missed Or Late Periods
When your period doesn't show, it can feel a bit nerve-racking. And you might be tempted to keep the news to yourself, until you figure out what to do next. But it's definitely worth it to let your doctor know ASAP, since abnormal periods can be a side effect of various health concerns.
As Mullen says, "amenorrhea ... is when you miss cycles or have very long cycles — maybe only having six to nine periods a year. While it might be welcome not to be bothered with periods so often, it’s not a good sign."
This is especially true if you have other out-of-the-ordinary symptoms, "such as hair loss, headaches, excessive facial hair, pelvic pain, [or] acne," says Mullen. "There are a number of conditions that can cause these symptoms, which include certain medications ... stress, [and] hormonal imbalances. Hormonal imbalances can be triggered by PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), issues with your thyroid, or with your pituitary gland. Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if any of these symptoms arise and persist."
6. Big Blood Clots
Not everyone's excited to talk about what their flow might look like — especially if it includes big clots. And yet, this is yet another thing your doctor needs to know about. "Passing big, dark brown clots, which look almost like cooked beets, may indicate heavy periods due fibroids or hormone imbalance," Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care, tells Bustle. You might spot these when you take out your tampon, or when you pee during your period.
During your period, you might also expel "fleshy pinkish red pieces, which almost look like raw meat," Dr. Gupta says. "[These clots] can be from endometrial polyps or again hormone imbalance, causing shedding of the uterine lining."
7. Strong Odors Or Discharge
Everyone's vaginal area has an odor to it, and everyone's odor is unique. Any type of scent is only cause for concern when it's stronger than usual, suddenly different, or is accompanied by other symptoms — such as itchiness or discharge — since this may be a sign of infection.
A "fishy smell or smell of rotten eggs ... before or after the periods, [may be a sign of] recurrent vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis, [which is] caused by pH imbalance before and after periods," Dr. Gupta says. Letting your doctor know about the odor can mean getting the antibiotics you need to clear up the issue, before it spreads.
It's not always fun to talk about periods — and all the symptoms that can come along with them — but it's important to do so, for the sake of your health. Even if something seems odd or different, don't be afraid to tell your primary care doctor or OB/GYN. They've seen it all, and are there to help you out.