If you're someone who gets a period, you might be tempted to just get through those few days and then totally forget about the experience. But paying attention is really key, because some period problems may be a health issue. According to experts, a number of things you can experience during menstruation — from a heavy flow to cramping — probably seem like they just come with the territory of bleeding every month. But for some people and in some situations, these could actually be signs of health issues.
You are the one who knows your body best, so you can notice any changes or irregularities quicker than anyone else would. "Because all bodies are different, there are a variety of symptoms that can be considered 'normal,'" Dr. Janelle Luk, a reproductive endocrinologist and medical director and co-founder of Generation Next Fertility, tells Bustle. So what's good and healthy for someone else's body isn't necessarily healthy for your body. You and your doctor are the best people to figure out if a period symptoms should be cause for concern, so don't hesitate to reach out if you're dealing with something that's uncomfortable during your period, even if you think it could turn out to be nothing serious.
Here are some period symptoms that might seem innocuous, but could actually be signs of a health problem, according to experts.
Severe Body Pains
With the onset of your period, you might find yourself reaching for your trusty heating pad or a bottle of pain medication. "Relatively milder cramps or pain can arise during your period," Dr. Luk says. "However, if you have severe pelvic pain, low back pain, or leg pain, this may indicate changes in your reproductive system." For example, this kind of intense pain could possibly point to uterine fibroids, she says, which are non-cancerous uterine growths that can sometimes lead to serious health problems like an enlarged uterus and abdomen or infertility.
Pain During Pooping Or Sex
If you're experiencing cramps, you might not feel in the mood to have sex (or you might feel totally in the mood). But experiencing pain during sex that isn't cramp-related isn't something you should just put up with. "Although not always, pain during bowel movements or pain during and after intercourse can also be sign of endometriosis," Dr. Luk says. And this is something you'll want to talk to your doctor about.
A Very Heavy Flow
Every body is different, which explains why menstrual products come in a variety of flow levels. But while very heavy flow during your period can also seem “normal,” it's worth consulting your physician about it, especially if the amount you're bleeding has changed recently. "Heavy flow can sometimes, but now always, be a symptom of uterine fibroids, hormonal disorders, or pelvic inflammatory disease," Dr. Luk says, so asking your doctor if what you're experiencing is healthy for your body is definitely a good idea.
You might think that a little spotting in between periods is no big deal since it's not much, but this is definitely a symptom you want to get checked out. "Spotting can be due to multiple reasons including pregnancy, polyps, and sometimes even cancer," Dr. Luk says. "Although usually nothing alarming, it is better to keep your physician informed to be proactive of your health."
For some folks, their period arrives on the dot every 28 days. For others though, it can seem like a total guessing game as to when the first drop will show up unannounced. "Irregular periods can be a sign of PCOS," Dr. Hedieh Asadi, co-founder of DeoDoc, tells Bustle, "which is polycystic ovary syndrome, in which there is an imbalance of hormones and ovaries accumulate small cysts." If you start missing periods or if you just want to make sure that everything down there is shipshape, schedule a visit with your doctor and ask any questions you might have.
For many people, menstruation is synonymous with cramps (and chocolate), so it's easy to assume that when you start to feel period pain, you just have to ride it out until you feel better. In actuality, though, this isn't true at all. "Cramps are a sign that something is amiss in the body," Felice Gersh, MD, OB/GYN, the founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group and the author of PCOS SOS, tells Bustle. "One of the most common reasons for bad cramps is a magnesium deficiency," she says. "Magnesium is a key player in muscle function and the uterus is a muscle!"
Make sure your body has plenty of magnesium by taking a magnesium citrate or glycinate supplement at 500 to 700 milligrams daily for a couple of months, Dr. Gersh says. Also, add extra omega-3, a B complex, zinc, vitamin D, and vitamin E, to make sure you're getting all of the nutrients you need. If your cramping still isn't improving, it’s definitely time for a visit to the gynecologist, she says.
Headaches might seem pretty innocuous, even if they acompany your period. "But getting a migraine with each period is not normal," Dr. Gersh says. "Many underlying conditions can trigger a migraine, such as sleep deprivation, high stress, alcohol, and nutrient deficiencies — particularly B2 (Riboflavin) and magnesium," she says. But getting a migraine at the beginning each period pretty strongly suggests that a drop in your estrogen levels triggered the migraine.
To address this, you could take supplements like Riboflavin and magnesium, Dr. Gersh says, but if that doesn't help after a few months, definitely loop in your doctor, who could potentially tell you to use an estrogen patch for the few days leading up to the period and for a day or two into the period.
Blood has an odor, so it's not unusual for your vagina to smell like blood if you're bleeding from it. But another smell during your period isn't so harmless. "That 'fishy,' unpleasant odor, for instance, can often be the sign of something more serious like a vaginal infection such as bacterial vaginosis (BV)," Gregory Kaufman, MD, FACOG, OB/GYN, tells Bustle. While this may sound scary, it's actually the most common vaginal infection, affecting more than 21 million people in the U.S. each year, he says.
While many people are tempted to self-treat, this is really not a good idea. A healthcare professional is really the only person who can properly diagnose and treat the condition, Dr. Kaufman says, so get in touch with your doctor to address this bacterial imbalance, which can potentially increase your risk of STIs, pelvic inflammatory disease, and more.
If you feel uncomfortable during your period, whether it's thanks to super heavy bleeding or painful cramping, never assume that you just have to grin and bear it. Your doctor is there as a great resource to help you feel your best, regardless of what time of the month it is.