Menopause occurs only after a woman has not had her period for one year.
Irregular periods are often one of the first signs that a woman is approaching menopause. Though the exact symptoms of irregular periods vary depending on a woman's unique 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.
As menopause approaches, women's hormones become imbalanced, and because the menstrual cycle is entirely dependent upon hormones, irregular periods often occur. Keep reading to learn more about irregular periods and their symptoms, common causes, and treatment options.
When discussing irregular periods, it is helpful to first understand what a "normal" period is. While every woman is different, normal periods are typically described as 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. Thus, irregular periods might be characterized by other symptoms. 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. Such alterations usually include abnormal bleeding and unusual cycle lengths.
Types of Irregular Periods
Irregular periods are essentially characterized by what is unusual for each individual. There are, however, specific symptoms that can help to determine if irregular periods are occurring.
Recent research shows that shortened intervals between periods are one of the most common symptoms of irregular periods in early menopause.
Irregularities in length
Infrequent or too frequent periods
Irregularities in flow
Changes in blood flow
Blood clots larger than an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter
Irregularities in pain
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 anytime before menopause, even if a woman's periods are irregular. It is quite possible during perimenopause to go months without a period, only to have it return. During this time, it is still possible to become pregnant.
Anovulation is when a woman's ovaries do not release an egg during a menstrual cycle, which often occurs with irregular periods during menopause. In other words, it is common for perimenopausal woman to bleed but not ovulate.
There are some special cases that can be associated with irregular periods, including use of cyclical hormones, incomplete hysterectomy, and postmenopausal bleeding.
Click here to learn more about irregular periods or continue reading below to understand the causes of irregular periods, especially in the time preceding menopause.
The menstrual cycle is closely linked with a number of physical and emotional states in the body. For women over the age of 40, the symptom is usually suggestive of menopause, but for younger women, it can be difficult to identify the cause of irregular periods.
Irregular periods are closely linked with a variety of physical and emotional conditions in the body, which makes it difficult to identify the cause of irregular periods. However, there are a number of ways to identify when menstrual irregularities occur as an indicator of menopause.
Causes of Irregular Periods
Did you know?
On average, a women has 500 menstrual cycles throughout her lifetime, between the time of her first period at about age 12 to her last period just prior to menopause.
Several factors can cause irregular periods, but for women approaching menopause, the most likely cause is fluctuating hormone levels. These hormonal changes are typically experienced between the ages of 45 and 55. A woman's menstrual cycle inextricably linked to her hormones because hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, drive the process. When hormone production begins to taper off, periods often become irregular.
To better understand the hormonal cause of irregular periods, it's helpful to learn what functions the hormones play during menstruation.
Role of hormones during the menstrual cycle
While menstruation is orchestrated by many hormones, progesterone and estrogen are the primary ones connected to irregular periods.
Estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for thickening the uterine lining before ovulation. As levels of estrogen become erratic during menopause, this lining is often shed irregularly and can lead to heavy bleeding.
Progesterone. Progesterone plays a part in regulating the release of an egg, known as ovulation. It is also responsible for controlling the intensity and duration of menstrual bleeding. When progesterone declines during menopause, it can lead to irregular periods. During anovulation, which is common with irregular periods in menopause, progesterone is not produced, or at least not at sufficient levels.
As production of these two essential hormones begins to decrease prior to menopause, periods are usually affected. Before decreasing to a consistently low level, estrogen and progesterone levels will often fluctuate drastically and cause irregular periods.
Other Causes of Irregular Periods
Although hormonal imbalance is the primary cause of irregular periods during menopause, there are some health conditions and lifestyle triggers that can cause irregular periods.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Uterine abnormalities (fibroids, cysts, polyps, and endometriosis)
Irritable bowel syndrome
Recent birth, miscarriage, or dilation and curettage ("D and C")
Significant weight gain or loss
Excessive alcohol consumption
When to See a Doctor
Many experts advise that all women speak with their healthcare providers when they begin to experience the symptoms of menopause, including irregular periods. Annual pelvic exam appointments are a good opportunity to mention irregular periods, particularly if they are bothersome or concerning. You may want to call you doctor if you have:
Infrequent or too frequent periods
Abnormal duration of bleeding
Changes in blood flow
Click here to read more about the causes of irregular periods or continue reading to understand the treatment options available for irregular periods.
The menstrual cycle is sensitive to your well-being, so irregular periods are often symptomatic of abnormal activity in the body. Uterine fibroids affect 40% of women at some point in their life, and heavy, painful, and unpredictable bleeding is one of the only outward indictors of the condition.
Irregular periods are defined as menstrual activity which differs significantly from a normal, 28-day cycle. Although the symptom is commonly associated with menopause, irregular periods could be indicative of a number of conditions, and it's worth being aware of the unexpected causes of menstrual irregularities as well as the well-known ones.
Irregular Periods Treatments
To treat this symptom of menopause, a three-tiered approach can be utilized. It is recommended to start with the least invasive option, and then work up to more drastic measures if necessary.
1. Lifestyle changes. Some easy lifestyle tips can help you cope with irregular periods. Leading a sedentary lifestyle or consuming too much caffeine or alcohol can exacerbate symptoms. Increased stress due to work pressure or family obligations can also increase the severity of irregular periods. By practicing stress-relieving techniques such as yoga or meditation, the incidence of irregular periods can be reduced.
Getting sufficient, restful sleep is important as well. Increasing the intake of complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and water can help balance your system, making for a smoother cycle.
Out of pocket
Women spend approximately five billion dollars a year on hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
2. Alternative medicine. If lifestyle changes aren't working and a woman is still experiencing irregular periods, there are further treatment options available. Alternative medicines that address the hormonal imbalance at the source are the most effective method of treatment, particularly when implemented in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
3. Prescription medication and surgery. For more serious incidences of irregular periods, more invasive measures can be taken, but these should always be under the supervision of a doctor. Hormone therapy and surgery also carry more risks and side effects.
Most experts recommend that women who wish to treat irregular periods first begin with lifestyle changes, then move on to alternative medicines – ideally combining the two – and, finally, look to prescriptions or surgery if nothing else seems to work.
The hormonal imbalances that occur in a woman's body as she approaches menopause can cause numerous physical and emotional changes. Among the most common of these are irregular periods and mood swings. These mutually influencing symptoms can cause frustration and distress, but there are ways of dealing with them to minimize their effect.
During perimenopause, hormonal imbalances may cause periods to become irregular - which can be frustrating and inconvenient. What you eat could increase or reduce your hormone levels; keep reading to learn which foods offer secret benefits to the menstrual cycle and which parts of your diet may be worsening them.
Hutchinson, S. (2007). The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause.
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
Updated on Jul 15, 2016 Statistics about Irregular Periods in Women Irregular periods are a symptom rather than a condition, and are characterized by sporadic, unpredictable, and infrequent bleeding that may be heavier or more painful than you are used to. Often the first indicator of any imbalances in the body, menstrual irregularities can be caused by hormonal shifts, illness, and environmental change.
Updated on Aug 26, 2015 Irregular Periods and Bloating: The Link Irregular periods and bloating are two conditions that are generally harmless and occur independently. However, there is sometimes a link between the two, albeit a weak one. This article talks about bloating and irregular periods in more detail and explains how they can be connected.
Updated on Mar 02, 2015 How to Distinguish Between Irregular Periods and Pregnancy Irregular periods can cause anxiety for some women they can imply that a woman is pregnant or may be having fertility issues. It is important to know what is causing irregular menstruation. Click here to learn about the early signs of pregnancy and other factors that can cause irregular menstruation.
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Updated on May 21, 2014 Menstrual Irregularities and Symptoms Menstrual irregularities differ for every woman because the symptoms greatly depend on what each woman considers to be a "normal" menstrual cycle.Due to the fact that every woman is different, menstrual irregularities are rather difficult to define, but they are usually identified by changes in the pattern of menstrual bleeding.