Fourteen possible reasons for an irregular period

14 possible causes for irregular periods

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What causes irregular periods?

Your menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of your last period to the start of your next period. Your period is considered irregular if it’s longer than 38 days or if the duration varies.

Irregular periods can have several causes, from hormonal imbalances to other underlying conditions, and should be evaluated by your doctor. Here’s a look at the possible causes and their symptoms.

1. Pregnancy

Pregnancy can cause you to miss your period or experience spotting. Other symptoms of early pregnancy may include:

  • morning sickness
  • nausea
  • sensitivity to smells
  • breast tingling or tenderness
  • fatigue

If you miss a period or notice changes in your period and you’ve had sex, you can take a pregnancy test at home or see your doctor to find out if you’re pregnant.

If you may be pregnant and experience sharp, stabbing pain in the pelvis or abdomen that lasts more than a few minutes, see your doctor right away to rule out ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage.

2. Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control pills and hormone-containing intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause irregular bleeding.

Birth control pills may cause spotting between periods and result in much lighter periods.

An IUD may cause heavy bleeding.

3. Breastfeeding

Prolactin is a hormone that’s responsible for breast milk production. Prolactin suppresses your reproductive hormones resulting in very light periods or no period at all while you’re breastfeeding.

Your periods should return shortly after you stop breastfeeding. Read on to learn more the effects of breastfeeding on your period.

4. Perimenopause

Perimenopause is the transition phase before you enter menopause. It usually begins in your 40s, but can occur earlier.

You may experience signs and symptoms lasting from 4 to 8 years, beginning with changes to your menstrual cycle. Fluctuating estrogen levels during this time can cause your menstrual cycles to get longer or shorter.

Other signs and symptoms of perimenopause include:

  • hot flashes
  • night sweats
  • mood changes
  • difficulty sleeping
  • vaginal dryness

5. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Irregular periods are the most common sign of PCOS. If you have PCOS, you may miss periods and have heavy bleeding when you do get your period.

PCOS can also cause:

  • infertility
  • excess facial and body hair
  • male-pattern baldness
  • weight gain or obesity

6. Thyroid problems

A 2015 study found that 44 percent of participants with menstrual irregularities also had thyroid disorders.

Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can cause longer, heavier periods and increased cramping. You may also experience fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and weight gain.

High levels of thyroid hormones, which is seen in hyperthyroidism, can cause shorter, lighter periods. You may also experience:

  • sudden weight loss
  • anxiety and nervousness
  • heart palpitations

Swelling at the base of your neck is another common sign of a thyroid disorder.

7. Uterine fibroids

Fibroids are muscular tumors that develop in the wall of the uterus. Most fibroids are noncancerous and can range in size from as small as an apple seed to the size of a grapefruit.

Fibroids can cause your periods to be very painful and heavy enough to cause anemia. You may also experience:

  • pelvic pain or pressure
  • low back pain
  • pain in your legs
  • pain during sex

Most fibroids don’t require treatment and symptoms can be managed with over-the-counter (OTC) pain medications and an iron supplement if you develop anemia.

8. Endometriosis

Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women of reproductive age. This is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines your uterus grows outside the uterus.

Endometriosis causes very painful, even debilitating menstrual cramps. Endometriosis also causes heavy bleeding, prolonged periods, and bleeding between periods.

Other symptoms may include:

  • gastrointestinal pain
  • painful bowel movements
  • pain during and after intercourse
  • infertility

Exploratory surgery is the only way to diagnose endometriosis. There’s currently no cure for the condition, but symptoms can be managed with medication or hormone therapy.

9. Being overweight

Obesity is known to cause menstrual irregularity. Research shows that being overweight impacts hormone and insulin levels, which can interfere with your menstrual cycle.

Rapid weight gain can also cause menstrual irregularities. Weight gain and irregular periods are common signs of PCOS and hypothyroidism, and should be evaluated by your doctor.

10. Extreme weight loss and eating disorders

Excessive or rapid weight loss can cause your period to stop. Not consuming enough calories can interfere with the production of the hormones needed for ovulation.

You’re considered underweight if you have a body mass index lower than 18.5. Along with stopped periods, you may also experience fatigue, headaches, and hair loss.

See your doctor if:

  • you’re underweight
  • have lost a lot of weight without trying
  • you have an eating disorder

11. Excessive exercise

Intense or excessive exercise has been shown to interfere with the hormones responsible for menstruation.

Female athletes and women who participate in intensive training and physical activities, such as ballet dancers, often develop amenorrhea, which is missed or stopped periods.

Cutting back on your training and increasing your calorie count can help restore your periods.

12. Stress

Research shows that stress can interfere with your menstrual cycle by temporarily interfering with the part of the brain that controls the hormones that regulate your cycle. Your periods should return to normal after your stress decreases. Try these 16 techniques to relieve your stress.

13. Medications

Certain medications can interfere with your menstrual cycle, including:

  • hormone replacement therapy
  • blood thinners
  • thyroid medications
  • epilepsy drugs
  • antidepressants
  • chemotherapy drugs
  • aspirin and ibuprofen

Speak to your doctor about changing your medication.

14. Cervical and endometrial cancer

Cervical and endometrial cancers can cause changes to your menstrual cycle, along with bleeding between periods or heavy periods. Bleeding during or after intercourse and unusual discharge are other signs and symptoms of these cancers.

Remember that these symptoms are more commonly caused by other issues. Speak to your doctor if you’re concerned.

When to call your healthcare provider

There are several possible causes of irregular periods, many of which require medical treatment. Make an appointment to see your doctor if:

  • your periods stop for more than 3 months and you’re not pregnant
  • your periods become irregular suddenly
  • you have a period that lasts longer than 7 days
  • you need more than one pad or tampon every hour or two
  • you develop severe pain during your period
  • your periods are less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart
  • you experience spotting between periods
  • you experience other symptoms, such as unusual discharge or fever

Your doctor will ask about your medical history and want to know about:

  • any stress or emotional issues you’re experiencing
  • any changes to your weight
  • your sexual history
  • how much you exercise

Medical tests may also be used to help diagnose the cause of your irregular bleeding, including:

  • a pelvic examination
  • blood tests
  • abdominal ultrasound
  • pelvic and transvaginal ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI

Treatments

Treatment depends on what’s causing your irregular periods and may require treating an underlying medical condition. Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatments:

  • oral contraceptives
  • hormonal IUDs
  • thyroid medication
  • metformin
  • weight loss or weight gain
  • exercise
  • vitamin D supplements

Stress reduction techniques may also help, including:

  • yoga
  • meditation
  • deep breathing
  • cutting back on work and other demands

How to track your period

Tracking your period is a good idea even when your period is regular. You can track your period on a calendar or in a notebook, or use one of the many period tracking apps available.

Begin tracking your period by marking the first day of your period on a calendar. Within a few months you’ll begin to see if your periods are regular or different each month.

Keep track of the following:

  • PMS symptoms, such as headaches, cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, and moods
  • when your bleeding begins and whether or not it was earlier or later than expected
  • how heavy your bleeding was, including how many pads or tampons you used
  • symptoms during your period, such as cramping, back pain, and other symptoms and how bad they were
  • how long your period lasted and whether or not it was longer or shorter than your last period

Outlook

Irregular periods can be caused by a number of things, some of them serious. Your doctor can help you determine the cause and help you get your cycle back on track. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding stress can also help.

To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare.  Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

Some Eating Disorders Increase the Odds of Death 18-Fold

Trigger WarningThis article covers one or more eating disorders in graphic detail.

We began to notice eating out was often a struggle, even around the sixth grade.  Just a picky eater, right?  I mean, we all have our preferences. We made room for her to assert her will as she began to grow into adulthood.

Then, favorite foods started to disappear from her diet, exercise amount and intensity really picked up, and anxiety started to reach pressure cooker levels around foods she considered “disgusting”.  Finally, on a trip with friends to the beach, we witnessed our daughter abandon the group to workout.  The ultimate alarm: in a fit of desperate anguish, she ran out of a restaurant sobbing…panicked about the menu choices.

The rest of our drive home, my wife researched eating disorders on her phone and decided Piper had Orthorexia –  a term with varying levels of acceptance in the eating disorder treatment community to describe a collection of behaviors that focus on “perfect” eating.  We agreed to intervene and seek help.

In the weeks that followed our initial discussions with her – she, in complete denial; we, in utter despair –  the physical signs of her disordered eating were becoming readily apparent.  She was way too thin and had stopped menstruating – especially essential at her age for continued development and strengthening of bones.  She was wasting away before our eyes, and we started to consider in-treatment programs while we tiptoed around tough topics to prevent another frightening blowup.

While we waited for an opening with professionals skilled in eating disorder recovery and lobbied mental health experts for help, we continued to clumsily insert ourselves into the decisions she was making around food and exercise.  The gym trips on top of swim team practice had clearly become a way for her to purge without actually throwing up, so we sat her down one night to tell her there would be no more working out…She leapt from our kitchen table, ran to a drawer, pulled a knife, and started to try to slice her wrists in rage.  Luckily, we were able to restrain her, her superhero sister calmed her down, and we got her to a hospital.

The months that followed were not easy, and Some of the way too deep talking was often tougher than I had imagined it could be.  The struggles were complex and very real.  I still spend many nights not wanting to leave her alone, but our youngest is well on the road to recovery.  We were able to find a great team, which included us, to help her restore mostly normal eating and thought patterns, and we are confident she will be able to head off to school next year without concern for her mental health.

What was happening?

An eating disorder is any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits. This pattern of eating leads to disruption in one’s behaviors, thinking, and mood and can eventually leave one unable to function in any number of areas: interpersonal relationships, social situations, school, and work. Ultimately, it can lead to severe disruptions in overall health, and even death.

In fact, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental health issues.  Eating disorders may seem benign, but every 62 minutes, someone dies as a direct result of an eating disorder.

Actual Mortality Rates

Studies report varying death rates from eating disorders, but there are common findings. Anorexia is the most lethal psychiatric disorder, carrying a sixfold increased risk of death — four times the death risk from major depression. A meta-analysis by Jon Arcelus, MD, PhD, of the University of Leicester, England, and colleagues found these standardized mortality rates: 5.86 for anorexia nervosa, 1.93 for bulimia nervosa, and 1.92 for eating disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS). Research has demonstrated higher death rates for bulimia nervosa and EDNOS than these figures. According to one study, the mortality rate for anorexia nervosa patients aged 25 to 44 followed after hospital discharge was 14 times that of age-matched non-eating disordered peers. (That’s 14 times!)

According to Arcelus, et al, age plays a major role.   Those diagnosed in their 20’s face the worst odds at 18 times the death risk of healthy people their age.  Overall,  Anorexia increases death risk:

  • Threefold when diagnosed before age 15.
  • Tenfold when diagnosed at ages 15 to 19.
  • 18-fold when diagnosed at ages 20 to 29.
  • Sixfold when diagnosed at ages 30 and older.

Warning Signs of an Eating Disorder

One who suffers from an eating disorder will continue damaging and destructive behaviors despite such compelling evidence these behaviors are not in that person’s best interest. Their driven actions may be caused by any number of factors and serve any number of purposes.  Early intervention markedly improves treatment outcome, which is one reason to ensure individuals with eating disorders receive a prompt diagnosis and access to treatment, preferably evidenced-based wherever possible.  If you or someone you love is showing any of the signs below, especially in combination, get help immediately:

Alterations in Weight

  • Unusually marked weight loss. If the person weighs less than 85 percent of their ideal body weight and exhibits other characteristic signs of an eating disorder, this person can be diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa.
  • Many can still be close to, at, or even above their ideal body weight and still have an eating disorder. This is somewhat often seen in binging and purging behaviors typical of patients diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa and includes restrictive, rigid rule based eating.

Preoccupation with Body Image

  • May spend an inordinate amount of time looking in the mirror.
  • Often makes negative comments about her physical appearance and insists they are overweight.
  • May become preoccupied with certain celebrities and models on the Internet and in magazines, comparing themselves unfavorably to them.
  • Wearing baggy clothing to hide their body shape. I am a 220 pound barrel chested bear of a man, and my sweatshirts became de riguer for my little girl.

Disruptions in Eating Patterns

  • Stops eating with the family
  • Develops strong dislikes to previously enjoyed foods
  • Preoccupied with counting calories and fat grams
  • Eats noticeably smaller portions or refuses to eat at all
  • Starts binging on certain foods
  • Drinks excessive amounts of water and caffeine to suppress appetite
  • Goes to the bathroom after meals to vomit what they just ate
  • May develop eating rituals such as:
    • Chewing for long periods of time before swallowing
    • Cutting food into small portions
    • Not allowing different foods to touch
    • Moving food around on the plate
    • Taking a long time to eat
    • Hiding food into napkins to throw away later

Preoccupation with Nutritional Content of Foods

  • Classifies foods as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, safe or unsafe
  • Searches out organic, low-fat diet foods
  • Frequently visits Internet websites focused on nutrition
  • May suddenly decide that they are going to become vegetarian, vegan, etc.
  • All of the above became concerns around our house, and this obsession with “right” eating became her “religion”

Changes in Exercise Patterns

  • Becomes preoccupied with physical fitness
  • Spends hours exercising in a ritualistic, rigid manner
  • Talks about the number of calories that they burned and the time they spent exercising
  • Becomes perturbed if their exercise routine is disrupted and eats even less to compensate

Use of Laxatives, Diuretics, and Diet Pills

Mood Fluctuations

  • May show signs of irritability, depression, and anxiety
  • May stop socializing and lose interest in previously enjoyed activities

Physical Eating Disorder Symptoms

  • Fainting spells from malnutrition and dehydration
  • Chapped lips and grey skin
  • Hair loss
  • Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
  • Disrupted sleep patterns
  • Musculoskeletal injuries and pain from excessive exercise
  • Dental erosions from self-induced vomiting.
  • Chronic constipation, gastro-esophageal reflux, and other gastro-intestinal problems
  • Markedly low blood pressure and pulse
  • Prone to upper respiratory infections
  • Low energy
  • Overall poor health

Nine Truths about Eating Disorders

Nine Truths” is based on Dr. Cynthia Bulik’s 2014 “9 Eating Disorders Myths Busted” talk at the National Institute of Mental Health Alliance for Research Progress meeting.

  • Truth #1:Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.
  • Truth #2:Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.
  • Truth #3:An eating disorder diagnosis is a health crisis that disrupts personal and family functioning.
  • Truth #4:Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.
  • Truth #5:Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.
  • Truth #6:Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.
  • Truth #7:Genes and environment play important roles in the development of eating disorders.
  • Truth #8:Genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.
  • Truth #9:Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible. Early detection and intervention are important.

What Are the First Steps to Recovery?

If you, or someone you know and love, shows any of these signs or exhibits patterns of the behaviors described above, it is important to get help as soon as possible. An eating disorder can quickly take on a life of its own and lead to a downward spiral of:

  • Functional disruptions
  • Broken relationships
  • Loss of educational and occupational opportunities
  • Deterioration in health
  • Possible premature death

The treatment process can be started by contacting the person’s primary care physician for a physical evaluation, including laboratory studies and an EKG, and ask for or initiate finding the appropriate level of treatment for the eating disorder. This may be a therapist that is comfortable working with eating disorders, an outpatient eating-disorder program, or even an in-patient facility that specializes in eating disorders.

As I reread the lists and statistics above, I now see so clearly all we were missing, or more accurately, dismissing as normal teenage “junk”.  We would celebrate a milkshake eaten on a weekend and convince ourselves we were seeing things.  That is how the eating disordered individual wants it, or, more accurately, the disease wants it.

An eating disorder, or ED for short, represents the closest thing I have seen to the metaphorical little devil and little angel on the shoulder scenario.  The devil – the disease – is lying and convinces the individual to lie….Then, that little devil, ED, puts on airs of being the little angel and starts to consume the mind…and the minds around the individual in the fight.  So insidious.  So scary.

Since today is World Eating Disorders Day, we challenge you to avoid being lulled into complacency or denial!  Because eating disorders can often be successfully treated, especially when they are caught early, little can be gained—and everything stands to be lost—if one takes a hurry-up and do-nothing attitude towards this pervasive problem.  Gather together a team.  Stay strong in the journey.

Get help as soon as possible.

If you are looking for a health professional who can help begin your journey to recovery, find a healthcare professional using HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.

DISCLAIMER:  You must know, I am just a half-a-brain helicopter pilot and mechanical engineer turned accidental sales person who became an occasionally adept commercial leader.  My wife, who lead our charge against ED, has been an incredible CEO of our home for almost 30 years.  I am not a medical professional, so what I am sharing here should be in no way misconstrued as health advice.  This list is not exhaustive.  It is only some of what we learned in facing the fearsome specter of mental health gone askew in our own home.

Sources:

WebMD

Stanford Daily

AEDWeb.org

VeryWellMind.com