So many people are too shy or embarrassed to talk about their period problems, and that’s a big problem. If you don’t speak up, you may worry needlessly or you may never identify symptoms that indicate a bigger medical problem. In order to help you navigate this sensitive subject, we’re breaking down what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to your monthly visitor. Keep in mind, however, that every woman’s cycle is different, so it’s worth mentioning any major changes to your OBGYN, even if they are seemingly within the normal range.
Unfortunately, too many women have grown up in a culture of silence. They learned from parents not to talk about women’s problems. And that’s troubling, since changes in your period are often a warning sign of uterine fibroids.
That was the case for three-time Olympian Magdalena Moshi, from Tanzania. Growing up in Africa, she said it was taboo to talk about her cycle. As such, she never knew that fibroids ran in her family. Ultimately, that meant she avoided treating these growths…until she needed emergency surgery to remove four kilograms of fibroids from her uterus. Now, she wants other women to avoid this fate. So, listen to her story here. And keep reading to learn more about your period, and why it’s a key health indicator for many women.
What is your period?
A period is the shedding of your uterine lining. This lining builds up over the course of the month in preparation for pregnancy. “If you don’t get pregnant, your hormone levels drop, and the lining separates from your uterus. That’s when you experience the bleeding known as your period.
Period Problems: Bleeding
Normal: Women’s periods are typically heavier at the start of their cycle, and gradually become lighter.
Not Normal: If you have to change your pad or tampon more than every few hours; if you are bleeding
through protection or having to get up at night to change your protection so you avoid stained sheets; or if you are passing large clots, you may be experiencing abnormal bleeding. Of course, excess bleeding is its own problem because of anemia risks. But it could also be a sign of underlying problems like fibroids, certain cancers or other medical concerns.
Is Clotting a Sign of Period Problems?
Normal: When you’re flowing regularly, you may notice some smaller blood clumps (or clots), especially on your heaviest days.
Not Normal: If you’re passing larger clots—anything bigger than the size of a quarter—that’s a sign of possible problems. Even if your clots are smaller, but you see them frequently, it’s worth discussing with your healthcare provider.
When is Timing an Issue?
Normal: Again, all women are unique, but ‘normal; cycles range from 21 to 35 days between the first day of one period to the first day of the next. The bleeding typically lasts between three and eight days, according to their website.
Not normal: Once you’re out of adolescence and have established your normal cycle range, any major timing changes could be problematic. Missing a few cycles when you aren’t pregnant? That’s something to discuss with your doctor. Bleeding outside of your regular period, or during sex? Another issue to discuss with a medical caregiver. Getting two periods in a month? Talk about it! Because changes in your cycle often indicate that your body is under stress. Figure out what’s causing stress before you develop other problems.
Normal: Mild discomfort during your period is normal, and should be easily managed with OTC medications. Standard cramps or period-related discomfort shouldn’t affect your day to day life.
Not normal: Pain that can’t be managed with drugstore medications is a sign of a problem. Pain that causes nausea and vomiting, should also be cause for concern, especially of the pain begins to radiate down your legs. Excessive pain could be an indication of endometriosis or adenomyosis, conditions that are difficult to diagnose if women aren’t forthcoming about their symptoms.
Pelvic pain experienced outside of your period is also not ‘normal’ and should be investigated further, as it is a potential indication of fibroids, non-cancerous tumors that develop in and around your uterus.
Normal: You may slow down or rest a bit more while on your period, but it’s your choice. You easily keep up with your regular routine and everyday demands.
Not normal: Your period leaves you exhausted and barely able to make it through your day, let alone add on extras like time with friends or bonus sweat sessions (which is a shame, since exercise can help combat menstrual cramps.) Sometimes, your period is so intrusive, you have to call in sick to work or skip school. These are signs that you may have anemia because of excessive blood loss. Which certainly means you need to talk to your doctor about abnormal periods!
Thankfully, treatment is available for almost all the conditions that make your period “not normal.” And we can diagnose and address many women’s health concerns remotely on the Doxy health platform, or in person when you schedule a consultation with our Houston area fibroid specialists. But the only way to receive help is to speak up, so discuss any menstrual cycle changes with your doctor as soon as you identify an issue!