Is there anything more confounding than periods? From trying to guess when Aunt Flo will make her arrival to debating the relative merits of tampons, pads, and reusable cups, periods can feel like a full-time job. Many women experience occasional disruptions in their menstrual cycles, which means it can be tough to determine what's normal and what's not. Here are some of the most common period woes and what they mean.
1. Excessive Bleeding
Many women think they bleed too much, but wishing you bled a little less is not the same as bleeding too much. If you soak through more than one pad or tampon per hour, it's time to talk to your doctor. Otherwise, there's no cause for concern.
For some women, excessive bleeding manifests in the form of bleeding in between periods. If this happens once or twice, it's usually no cause for alarm. But bleeding for more than 10 days, routinely bleeding in between periods, or passing clots in between cycles could mean either that you have a hormonal imbalance or are not ovulating.
2. No Period at All
To get your period, you must ovulate. Thus, if you don't get your period at all, it means you're not ovulating. It's normal to miss a period every year or so, but if it happens more frequently than this, it's time for a chat with your physician.
3. Blood Clots
When you bleed each month, you're shedding the lining of your uterus, and some pieces come out fairly large. Periodic blood clots—even large ones—are normal. If your period is very heavy, the clots result in intense pain or are regularly larger than a golf ball, it's time to have a chat with your gyno.
4. Painful Periods
As your uterine lining sheds, your cervix slightly dilates. It does so as your uterus contracts, which means that every period is sort of like a scaled-down version of child labor. It's normal to have cramps, even intense ones. If your cramps are so bad that they can't be managed with medication, or they have gotten worse than they used to be, it's time to talk to your doctor. And if you have to miss work or school because of your period, your doctor may be able to recommend medication or lifestyle changes to help reduce the pain.
5. Irregular Periods
We've all heard that the “normal” menstrual cycle is 28 days, but that's only if you ovulate on day 14 and take 14 more days to shed your uterine lining. The truth is that if you're menstruating according to a somewhat predictable schedule, it's likely that everything's working well. If your periods are sometimes close together, sometimes absent, and sometimes very far apart, though, this could mean you're ovulating sporadically or not at all. Talk to your doctor.