Every woman has a different experience when it comes to menstrual periods. Your periods may be short or long, heavy or light, or anywhere between the two extremes. Some women never experience a menstrual cramp, while others go through excruciating pain every month.
Despite these differences, we can define normal menstrual cycles and periods based on the average experience of most women. Any time your periods fall outside the normal range, it signals a potential gynecologic condition that should be treated.
Heavy bleeding, painful periods, and irregular periods are also signs of problems that often cause infertility. The sooner you have those signs evaluated by infertility expert Fangyin Meng, MD, PhD, in Irvine, California, the easier it is to treat the condition and prevent infertility.
Here’s what you need to know about identifying abnormal menstrual cycles and periods.
Menstrual cycles defined
Your menstrual cycle is determined by the monthly hormone changes that prepare your body for pregnancy and cause menstruation when you’re not pregnant. This cycle runs from the first day you start bleeding in one menstrual period to the first day of bleeding in your next period.
On average, menstrual cycles are 28 days (you have 28 days between the first day of each menstrual period), but your cycles are considered to be normal if they come any time between 24-38 days.
However, cycles are often different in the first few years after young women begin menstruating. During that time, their cycles may range from 21-45 days. It’s also common for adolescents to have irregular cycles during the first few years they menstruate.
Women should talk with us about their reproductive health if their cycles fall outside the normal range or they have irregular cycles. This is especially important if you plan to get pregnant in the near future.
Normal, regular menstrual cycles are a sign that your ovaries release an egg around the same time every month. Irregular cycles indicate a problem with ovulation, which in turn means you may have a hard time getting pregnant.
If you schedule an exam, we can identify and treat any problems and get you into the best possible health before you try to get pregnant.
About abnormal menstrual periods
Most menstrual periods last 2-7 days, with the heaviest bleeding occurring in the first few days. You have an abnormal period when the duration of your bleeding is different or you have heavy bleeding.
Signs that your periods are abnormal include:
- Your bleeding lasts longer than seven days
- You have to wear more than one pad
- You go through one or more pads or tampons every hour
- You have to change your pad or tampon during the night
- You pass blood clots the size of a quarter or larger
You should never ignore heavy bleeding or bleeding that lasts longer than normal. In addition to putting you at risk of iron deficiency anemia, heavy bleeding is one of the top signs of gynecologic conditions that cause infertility.
Causes of abnormal bleeding
Many gynecologic conditions can cause abnormal bleeding, including:
- Irregular ovulation
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Uterine fibroids
- Uterine polyps
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Endometrial cancer
- Ectopic pregnancy
Polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis are two of the most common causes of infertility. Additionally, one in 10 women with pelvic inflammatory disease becomes infertile.
If you have questions about abnormal periods or need to schedule an appointment, call Fangyin Meng, MD, PhD, or book an appointment online today.