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Managing an Irregular Menstrual Cycle

Managing an Irregular Menstrual Cycle

Changes in menstrual cycle length and symptoms are to be expected after pregnancy, when stopping or starting hormonal birth control, or when periods are coming to an end in perimenopause.

But irregular periods are more than an inconvenience: they can signal that something more serious is going on. So if you’re not going through one of these stages and your cycle suddenly changes, it might be time to talk to your OB/GYN.

What Is a Normal Menstrual Cycle?

In a normal menstrual cycle, one of your ovaries releases an egg during ovulation. If the egg is not fertilized by sperm, then hormones will tell your body to shed the blood and tissues inside your uterus. This process normally takes about five days, on average. This cycle repeats itself about once a month. While everyone is a little different, most adult menstrual cycles are 24 to 38 days long and vary in duration.

An occasional missed period is not unheard of, but periods should not stop suddenly for more than 90 days unless you are pregnant, stopping hormonal birth control, or beginning menopause.

A menstrual cycle is considered clinically irregular after six months of being shorter or longer than average, or after 90 days of not having a period outside of pregnancy, birth control, or menopause.

What Causes an Irregular Menstrual Cycle?

Lifestyle and environmental factors are often to blame when a menstrual cycle changes suddenly.

Common culprits include:

  • Chronic stress
  • Obesity
  • Intensive exercise
  • Drastic weight changes or eating disorders
  • Sleep disorders, jet lag, or working night shifts
  • Substance abuse
  • Certain medications (steroids, blood thinners, anti-epileptics, and antipsychotics)

Irregularity can also be a symptom of a more serious medical problem.
If you and your doctor rule out lifestyle and environmental causes, you may be tested for an underlying medical condition, including:

  • Endometriosis: The tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, often in the pelvic area
  • Hyperprolactinemia: Higher than normal levels of the hormone prolactin, which stimulates breast milk production after childbirth
  • Hyperthyroidism: Overproduction of hormones in the thyroid
  • Hypothyroidism: Underproduction of hormones in the thyroid
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: An infection in the reproductive organs that results from an untreated infection, including a sexually-transmitted disease
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome: Imbalanced reproductive hormones that can lead to enlarged ovaries, small fluid-filled sacs (cysts) in the ovaries, metabolic problems, and more
  • Premature ovarian failure/insufficiency: A loss of normal ovarian function before the age of 40
  • Uterine polyps or fibroids: Growths in the inner wall of the uterus that are usually benign

When Should I Consult a Doctor?

An irregular cycle can contribute to an array of health conditions, including problems with heart health, metabolism, fertility, and more.

That’s why it is important to track your menstrual cycle and watch for these sudden changes that last more than three months:

  • You haven’t had a period in three months
  • Your period suddenly changes or stops
  • You have a period more frequently than every 21 days
  • You have a period less frequently than every 35 days
  • You bleed between periods

High-quality Care in a Healing Environment

When you’re seeking answers to an irregular menstrual cycle, it’s important to choose a healthcare team that puts safety, quality, and comfort first.

Mary Washington Healthcare’s Advanced Gynecologic Program is equipped to provide the latest diagnostic and treatment options for women experiencing irregular menstrual cycles. These range from simple lifestyle changes to medications. In some cases, surgery is the best option. Stafford Hospital is one of only six Virginia hospitals certified as a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG) by the Surgical Review Corporation. Programs that earn this designation must adhere to the highest standards in minimally invasive gynecological surgery and meet stringent safety, education, and quality requirements.

At Stafford Hospital, the safety and comfort of our patients is a top priority. We offer treatment for women of all ages in a quiet, clean, and soothing environment that is conducive to healing.

To find a COEMIG-certified physician, call MWHC Health Link at 540.741.1404.