Learn about common menstrual cycle problems, such as premenstrual syndrome, and what you can do to ease your symptoms.
A regular cycle means different things to different women. The average cycle is 28 days, but it can range anywhere from 21 to 45 days. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy, and the length of periods also varies. While most periods last from three to five days, anywhere from two to seven days is normal. It's important to know what's normal and which symptoms should not be ignored.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a group of symptoms linked to the menstrual cycle.
"Up to 85 percent of women experience at least one symptom of PMS," says Joseph T. Martorano, M.D., a New York psychiatrist and author of Unmasking PMS (M. Evans & Co., 1993). PMS symptoms occur in the week or two weeks before your period and usually go away after your period starts. PMS can affect menstruating women of any age. It is also different for each woman. PMS may be just a monthly bother or it may be so severe that it makes it hard to even get through the day.
Premenstrual Syndrome Symptoms
PMS often includes both physical and emotional symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- breast swelling and tenderness
- feeling tired
- having trouble sleeping
- upset stomach, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea
- headache or backache
- appetite changes or food cravings
- joint or muscle pain
- trouble concentrating or remembering
- tension, irritability, mood swings, or crying spells
- anxiety or depression
Symptoms vary from one woman to another. Between 3 and 7 percent of PMS sufferers have symptoms that are so incapacitating that they interfere with daily life. PMS usually lasts two to five days, but may plague some women for up to 21 days out of each 28-day cycle. If you think you have PMS, keep track of which symptoms you have when and how severe they are to share with your doctor.
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Discover the best treatments for your premenstrual syndrome symptoms and find out what to do when you have a missed menstrual cycle.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Treatment
Many things have been tried to ease the symptoms of PMS. No treatment works for every woman, so you may need to try different ones to see what works. Sometimes lifestyle changes may be enough to help ease your symptoms. Among them:
- Eat healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
- Avoid salt, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol, especially when you are having PMS symptoms.
- Exercise regularly.
- Get enough sleep. Try to get 8 hours of sleep each night.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress. Talk to your friends, exercise, or write in a journal.
- Take a multivitamin every day that includes 400 micrograms of folic acid. A calcium supplement with vitamin D can help keep bones strong and may help ease some PMS symptoms.
- Don't smoke.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen may help ease cramps, headaches, backaches, and breast tenderness.
In more severe cases of PMS, prescription medicines may be used to ease symptoms. One approach has been to use drugs such as birth control pills to stop ovulation from occurring. Women on the pill report fewer PMS symptoms, such as cramps and headaches, as well as lighter periods.
Amenorrhea -- the lack of or a missed menstrual cycle
This term is used to describe the absence of a period in:
- young women who haven't started menstruating by age 15
- women who used to have regular periods, but haven't had one for 90 days
- young women who haven't had a period for 90 days, even if they haven't been menstruating for long
Causes of a missed menstrual cycle can include pregnancy, breastfeeding, and extreme weight loss caused by serious illness, eating disorders, excessive exercising, or stress. Hormonal problems, such as those caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or problems with the reproductive organs, may be involved. It is important to talk to a doctor anytime you have a missed menstrual cycle.
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Ease Menstrual Cramps & Heavy Menstrual Bleeding
Suffering from severe cramps and heavy menstrual bleeding? Find out more about your and menstrual cycle problems and find relief.
Dysmenorrhea -- painful periods, including severe menstrual cramps
When menstrual cramps occur in teens, the cause is too much of a chemical called prostaglandin. Most teens with dysmenorrhea do not have a serious disease even though the cramps can be severe.
In older women, a disease or condition, such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis, sometimes causes the pain. For some women, using a heating pad or taking a warm bath helps ease menstrual cramps. Some pain medicines available over the counter, such as ibuprofen, ketoprofen, or naproxen, can help with these symptoms. If pain persists or interferes with work or school, you should see a doctor. Treatment depends on what is causing the problem and how severe it is.
Abnormal uterine bleeding is heavy menstrual bleeding or vaginal bleeding that is different from normal menstrual periods.
This includes very heavy menstrual bleeding or unusually long periods, periods too close together, and bleeding between periods. In both teens and women nearing menopause, hormonal changes can cause long periods along with irregular cycles. Even if the cause is hormonal changes, treatment is available. These changes can also go along with other serious medical problems such as uterine fibroids, polyps, or even cancer. You should see a doctor if these changes occur. Treatment for abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding depends on the cause.
You should also visit your doctor if:
- your period suddenly stops for more than 90 days
- your periods become very irregular after having had regular, monthly cycles
- your period occurs more often than every 21 days or less often than every 45 days
- you are bleeding for more than seven days
- you are bleeding more heavily than usual or using more than one pad or tampon every one to two hours
- you bleed between periods
- you have severe pain during your period
- you suddenly get a fever and feel sick after using tampons