About Irregular Periods

Research

Recent research shows that experiencing shortened intervals between periods is one of the most common symptoms of irregular periods in early menopause.

Irregular periods are often one of the first signs that a woman is going through menopause. Irregular periods signal that estrogen and progesterone levels are beginning to decline as the ovaries prepare to stop producing these hormones completely.

Though the exact symptoms of irregular periods vary depending on each woman's cycle, most women will experience irregular periods for three to ten years before periods stop completely. In fact, only 10% of women reach menopause without any irregular periods.

Read on to learn more about irregular periods and their symptoms, how fertility may be affected, and what the special cases are.

Definition of Irregular Periods

In order to define irregular periods, it is helpful to first understand what is considered normal. While every woman is different, normal periods are typically described as having occurring every 25 - 31 days, with bleeding lasting approximately five days. The average amount of blood loss during a normal period is two to eight tablespoons.

While this is a general definition of normal periods, some women may experience menstruation differently. What is irregular for one woman may be normal for another.

Irregular periods, then, are any alterations in a woman's typical menstrual cycle that persist for several months. They are generally characterized by abnormal bleeding and unusual cycle lengths. Continue reading to learn more about the specific symptoms of irregular periods.

Symptoms of Irregular Periods

Symptoms of irregular periods may vary depending on the woman, her hormonal patterns, and her menstrual history. Nonetheless, the following characteristics of irregular periods are common:

Recommendation

See a doctor if bleeding lasts more than seven days, or if cycles are shorter or longer than 21 - 35 days.

  • Infrequent or too-frequent periods (oligomenorrhea or polymenorrhea). Periods appearing more often than every two weeks or less than every six weeks are irregular.
  • Missed periods (amenorrhea). Missing a period completely is common during menopause. In fact, some women will go months without a period, only to have them begin again.
Irregular periods menstruation
  • Painful cramping (dysmenorrhea). While some women experience mild cramping just before or during regular periods, heavy cramping may occur with irregular periods.
  • Abnormal duration of bleeding. Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than a week (menorrhagia) or only a day or two (hypomenorrhea). Some women may also experience spotting during the middle of a menstrual cycle.
  • Changes in blood flow. Irregular periods are often marked by unusually heavy or light blood flow.
  • Blood clots. While seeing clots in your menstrual blood is often normal (these clots are actually uterine tissues shed during every cycle), women with irregular periods during menopause might notice a change in blood clots.

Women who have questions about the symptoms of irregular periods during menopause should not hesitate to speak with their physician. Read on to learn more about how fertility is affected during irregular periods.

Fertility and Irregular Periods

Many women wonder about their fertility when they begin to experience irregular periods. It is important to remember that pregnancy can occur any time before menopause, even if a woman's period is irregular. It is not uncommon during perimenopause to go months without a period, only to have it return. During this time, it is still possible to become pregnant.

Anovulation

A Woman's Age vs. Fertility

Anovulation is when a woman's ovaries do not release an egg during a menstrual cycle, which occurs often with irregular periods during menopause. It is common for perimenopausal woman to bleed but not ovulate.

It is recommended that women wishing to avoid pregnancy use a reliable form of birth control during perimenopause until it is certain that menopause has occurred. Read on to learn about special cases of irregular periods during menopause.

Special Cases

Did you know?

A doctor can perform a blood test to determine if a woman's hormones are officially at menopausal levels.

In some cases, it can be difficult to determine whether hormones have reached a menopausal level. For example, taking cyclical hormone therapy, having a hysterectomy, and postmenopausal bleeding are all special cases of irregular periods that merit some additional explanation.

About Irregular Periods1
  • Use of cyclical hormones. If a woman is on a form of birth control or hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during which estrogen is taken on most days and progestin during the last days of her menstrual cycle, she may still have a period, since the latter hormone causes the uterine lining to shed, but she may no longer be fertile.

  • Incomplete hysterectomy. If a woman has had her uterus removed, but not her ovaries, she is considered "surgically menopausal," but she may not be hormonally menopausal (since the ovaries are responsible for producing reproductive hormones).

  • Postmenopausal bleeding. Any bleeding after menopause in women who are not taking HRT should be discussed with a qualified healthcare provider, as this can indicate a more serious health condition.

Read on to learn more about the causes of irregular periods during menopause.

Menopause and Periods

The relationship between menopause and periods may seem contradictory at first - but during perimenopause women are very likely to experience irregular periods.

The Effects of Hormonal Fluctuations on Your Periods

The hormonal fluctuations you are likely to experience during your forties and early fifties may have a number of effects on your periods.The effects of irregular periods can be combated by lifestyle changes and dietary adjustments that may work if the symptoms are not severe.

Sources:
  • Love, S. (2003). Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press.
  • National Health Service UK. (2015). Irregular periods. Retrieved April 4, 2016, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Introduction.aspx