So, irregular periods. In general, periods come once a month, but a common mistake that a lot of young women make is that they think that once a month means every month on the same day. That actually is not true at all. Period cycles occur based on when you ovulate (or release an egg each month). When young teens start getting periods, they can be all over the place. After about a year or so, periods settle into a usual pattern of about every 28 – 35 days. You can use a period tracker to guess when your next period is coming or just mark on a calendar. After a few months of counting out the days, you will see what your personal cycle is. If you’ve done this and you are having periods all over the place, some teens always have irregular periods – but your doctor will consider other things before deciding that’s what is going on with you.
For instance, if you are overweight and notice some hair growth in places you wouldn’t expect (like the mustache area or your chest), you may have something called polycystic ovary syndrome, or more commonly PCOS. This is a disorder where your metabolism is affected and in some young women, can lead to early diabetes. This is something your doctor can look for. The underlying metabolic problem needs to be treated for your periods to get back to normal.
Now if you once were regular but now are not, there are a few things that can be the reason:
- Stress can definitely affect periods. When you are under a lot of stress, your body thinks it might not be a good time to support a pregnancy, so it might not release an egg that month (remember, it is the release of that egg that sets the timing of your period cycle up). If you skip a period, you can have some weird brown spotting later that is called “anovulatory bleeding” when the lining of the uterus sheds through bleeding, but it was never fully build up as it is during a normal cycle. (confused? again, HERE is the Periods 101 post).
- Some forms of birth control can affect periods. If you miss birth control pills, for instance, your bleeding schedule will be affected (as well as how well they work – more about that HERE). Also, IUDs or implants or shots can affect your cycle – this isn’t dangerous and doesn’t mean they are not working. They just affect the hormones that cause periods in a way to make them irregular or sometimes go away altogether.
- If you have regular periods except when you are in your sports season when you run cross country or you had regular periods before you lost weight for gymnastics, and then you stopped having periods, we worry about something called Athlete’s Triad.
What is Athlete’s Triad? This is when female athletes have a trio of unhealthy problems: 1) disordered eating – or a full-blown eating disorder 2) osteoporosis (thin, weak bones) and 3)amenorrhea (no periods). Your periods and your bone strength are related. Losing your periods due to extreme thinness or low body fat is a sign that your estrogen levels have dropped. And you need estrogen to build up those bones. So, low estrogen = weak bones (often this is made worse by low calcium that can be caused by teens who avoid dairy like the plague to cut calories).
These are just a few examples of what might be going on.
So, what to do?
You see there are many reasons periods can become irregular, and each young woman is different. Which is why I always say, you’ve got to see your doctor to get checked out. She knows your medical situation better than anyone, and you know your body better than anyone, so the two of you are a great team to work to get to the bottom of it. Depending on what she finds, treatments may vary. Sometimes birth control pills are used to regulate hormone cycles but that won’t help if there is a treatable reason for your irregular periods. They are only used for regulating periods if everything else has been ruled out.
Hope this helps, but again, seeing your doctor is important. No internet source can replace a live in the flesh doctor!