A period occurs when the vagina discharges blood and uterine tissue. This is called menstruation, and it normally happens every month. Hormones effect a woman’s menstrual cycle. According to the National Women’s Health Information Center, a young girl should be menstruating by the age of 15. If she does not get her period by that age, a physical examination is warranted to treat the condition and rule out any serious health concern as the cause of irregular menstruation. The delayed onset of menstruation is considered abnormal, but periods can be irregular even after they start.
An irregular period is a period that falls outside of the parameters of normal menstruation. For a woman this means a period cycle that is longer or shorter than 21 to 35 days, and for a teenager it means a period cycle that is not in the 21 to 45 day range. If you have a period every two weeks, for instance, or a period every other month, this is a sign of an irregular period. Sometimes periods can be spaced apart for longer than two months. An irregular period can also be one that lasts longer than a week, has heavy bleeding or strong pain while menstruating.
Irregular periods need not be cause for concern if a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding, as menstruation will be affected during these periods. Excessive loss of weight that can also cause irregular periods, on the other hand, it may be the symptom of a serious medical condition you are not aware of and should be diagnosed by a qualified physician. Cancer can cause of irregular periods and should be checked out by a doctor as well. Polyps, which are growths that sometime turn cancerous, may also be responsible for irregular periods, and fibroids, although benign tumors that may have no symptoms, can create infertility or cause a miscarriage. Knowing about the underlying causes of irregular periods may encourage investigation and treatment of the condition, which could save a life if cancer is involved.
Cessation of Periods
If a woman has been having a regular period all along and then does not menstruate in three months time and is not pregnant, or if a teen’s period is absent for a three-month period this condition could be a condition called amenorrhea. Amenorrhea is also the diagnosis used for girls who do not get their first period by the age of 15. Premature Ovarian Failure (a condition that affects women under the age of 40 and causes the ovaries to no longer perform normally) can also be the reason a woman’s periods have become irregular or have stopped. Cessation of periods or periods that last for more than a week can be a symptom of menopause.
Periods that are accompanied by painful cramps come under the category of dysmenorrhea. Although this condition can cause much discomfort, it is not considered an illness to be concerned about. Dysmenorrhea is an irregular type of period many young girls suffer with, but when a woman who is older experiences severe cramps she may have uterine fibroids or a condition where uterine tissue develops outside the uterus rather than inside the uterus. This condition is called endometrosis. Certain OTC medications, the use of a heating pad, or sitting in a warm tub can help ease the pain of dysmenorrhea.
Women who have amenorrhea can sometimes be treated with oral contraceptives or changes in lifestyle. Women with dysmenorrhea may be able to get some relief from pain by taking contraceptive pills, or by getting a birth control injection. Medication can help women who have irregular periods due to uterine fibroids and surgery can be performed to eliminate the growths. Women who have pain associated with endometriosis can be treated with hormone therapy, medication for pain or surgery.
- The American Medical Association Encyclopedia of Medicine, Medical Editor Charles B. Clayman, MD, 1989