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Irregular Periods: Understanding Inconsistent Menstrual Cycles

Tuesday, November 06, 2012 3:46 PM

At one time or another, most women experience an irregular menstrual cycle. While regular for some women may be every four weeks, the length between cycles will vary between individuals. However, most women get their period every 21-35 days.

Inconsistency often isn’t something to cause concern. In most cases it is due to a hormonal imbalance, which can be normalized with medication, such as birth control.

Sangeeta Senapati, MD, Endoscopic Surgeon at NorthShore, shares some of the causes of irregular menstrual cycles:

  • Stress. Being anxious and tense can impact your hormones, thereby affecting your cycle.
  • Medication. Depending on the types of medications you are on, your cycle may be impacted. If you recently began using birth control or have switched this medication, it is also not uncommon for your cycle to change in frequency, flow and length.
  • Tobacco and alcohol use. Cigarette smoking can cause a shortening of your menstrual cycle.  Women who smoke are also more likely to have painful periods.  Alcohol can disrupt the menstrual cycle and prevent a woman from ovulating. This may mean delayed or skipped menses.
  • Excessive exercise. Those training for endurance sports (such as marathons) often experience missed periods or loss of menses entirely. This may occur due to decrease in body fat and overall increase in the body’s stress level, which causes a hormonal imbalance.
  • Change in weight – through a weight gain or loss. A decrease in body fat below 15% may lead to a decrease in female hormones, which can cause delay and loss of menstruation. Obesity may lead to menstrual problems as well causing women to have fewer menses than normal. Women who are overweight may also have longer and heavier menses due to the excess estrogen that is associated with weight gain.
  • Diet. Poor nutrition – either due to an eating disorder or not – can cause women to skip cycles. Diets high in carbohydrates may also impact menstruation.
  • Pregnancy. It is important to remember that you can still become pregnant even if you are not menstruating regularly.
  • Onset of menopause. Menopause has officially occurred when it has been 12 months since your last menstrual period. The average age of menopause is 51-52. The perimenopausal period often begins in a woman’s 40’s. Some signs of the perimenopausal period may include irregular menses, hot flashes/night sweats, vaginal dryness and sleep disturbances.

If you experience consistently irregular menstrual cycles it may be worthwhile to consult your physician.

Have you ever had an irregular period?