A regular menstrual cycle means different things to different women. The average menstrual 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. Signs of potential problems that should not be ignored include:
Amenorrhea — the lack of a menstrual period
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 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.
Dysmenorrhea — painful periods, including severe 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 their cramps. Some pain medicines available over the counter, such as ibuprofen (i.e., Advil®, Motrin®, Midol® Cramp), ketoprofen (i.e., Orudis®, KT®), or naproxen (i.e., Aleve®), 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 —vaginal bleeding that is different from normal menstrual periods.
This includes very heavy 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 bleeding depends on the cause.
You should also see 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