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Did you know?
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.
About Irregular Periods
In order to discuss irregular periods, it is helpful to first understand what a “normal” period is. While every woman is different, normal periods are typically described as having an interval of 25 to 31 days from period start to period start, 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 “textbook” definition of normal periods, some women may experience menstruation differently. Thus, irregular periods might be characterized by symptoms that are unusual for them.
Irregular periods, then, are alterations in a woman's typical menstrual cycle that persist for several months. Irregular periods are those characterized by abnormal bleeding and/or unusual cycle lengths.
Symptoms of irregular periods
As discussed, irregular periods are essentially characterized by what is irregular for each individual woman. However, there are specific symptoms that can help to determine if irregular periods are occurring.
Infrequent/too frequent periods
Abnormal duration of bleeding
Changes in blood flow
Recent research shows shortened intervals between periods are one of the most common symptoms of irregular periods in early menopause.
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 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 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.
There are some special cases that can be associated with irregular periods, including use of cyclical hormones, incomplete hysterectomy, postmenopausal bleeding.
Click here to learn more about irregular periods or continue reading below to learn everything concerning to the cause irregular periods, especially in the time preceding menopause.
Many women remain unaware of the fact that irregular periods are a symptom of menopause, and the fact that they can still get pregnant even if their periods are very far apart. Knowing the relationship between menopause and periods and understanding the difference between the stages of menopause is useful information for women.
During perimenopause, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate as the body reduces its hormone production in preparation for menopause. The menstrual cycle is largely influenced by hormonal activity, so perimenopausal fluctuations are can have a number of effects on the regularity, duration, and heaviness of your periods.
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 hormonal levels experienced typically between the ages of 45 and 55. A woman's menstrual cycle cannot be separated from her hormones, because her 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 hormones responsible for irregular periods.
Estrogen. Estrogen is responsible for thickening the uterine lining before ovulation. As levels of estrogen become erratic in menopause, this lining is often shed irregularly and can lead to heavy bleeding.
Progesterone. Progesterone is responsible for triggering the shed of the uterine contents after ovulation when fertilization hasn't occurred. It is also responsible for controlling the intensity and duration of menstrual bleeding. When it declines in menopause, it can lead to irregular periods. During anovulation, which is common with irregular periods in menopause, progesterone is not produced. This can lead to estrogen build-up.
As production of these two hormones so integral to the menstrual cycle begins to decrease prior to menopause, periods are usually affected. Before decreasing to a constant low level, estrogen and progesterone levels will often fluctuate wildly and cause irregular periods.
Other causes of irregular periods
Although hormonal imbalance is the primary causes of irregular periods during menopause, there are some health conditions and lifestyle triggers that can causes irregular periods. They are:
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/loss
Excessive alcohol use
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 pap and pelvic exam appointments are a good opportunity to mention irregular periods, particularly if they are bothersome or concerning.
When to Call the Doctor
Infrequent/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 gain a comprehensive understanding of the treatment options available for irregular periods.
Endometriosis is a condition where the uterus wall lining displaces, causing painful cysts and blood sacs to form. It's an issue that affects millions of women, and irregular periods are among the most common symptoms. Dealing with endometriosis as soon as possible is important to minimize pain and prevent further complications, such as infertility.
Menopausal women are most commonly affected by irregular periods. However, all women of reproductive ages may experience irregularities at some point in their life. These can be caused by lifestyle habits. They can also be caused by medical conditions like a miscarriage, uterine abnormalities, and polycystic ovary syndrome.
Treatments for Irregular Periods
To treat this problematic symptom, a three-tiered approach to treatment 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 to 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.
Making sure to receive a good night of rest goes a long way as well. Some simple dietary changes can also be helpful. Increasing the intake of complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, and water can help balance the 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 coping methods and simple lifestyle changes aren't working and a woman is still experiencing irregular periods, there are further treatment options available. Alternative medicines and treatments which address the hormonal imbalance at the source are the most effective method of treatment, particularly when implemented in conjunction with lifestyle changes.
3. Drugs and Surgery. For more serious incidences of irregular periods, increasingly drastic measures can be taken, but these should always be undertaken with the help of a medical professional.
Most experts recommend that women who suffer from irregular periods and wish to treat it begin with lifestyle changes, then move onto alternative medicines (ideally combining the two) and finally, look to drugs or surgery if nothing else seems to work. Click on the following link to learn specific treatments for irregular periods in these three categories.
Every woman has a different experience with menstruation, and what is normal for one may be abnormal for another. However, there are definite indications of when a woman's periods become irregular, and they can be incredibly frustrating. Find five natural remedies to manage irregular periods at home here.
Irregular periods and infertility can cause uncomfortable and confusing circumstances. Eating the right foods, keeping active, and remaining relaxed are effective in balancing hormone levels. This article provides further understanding as to what is causing the irregularities and tips to cope.
- Hutchinson, Susan M.D. "The Stages of a Woman's Life: Menstruation, Pregnancy, Nursing, Perimenopause, Menopause". November 2007.
- Love, Susan M.D. Menopause and Hormone Book. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.
- BMJ Group. "Menopause: What is it?" Patient Leaflet. 2007
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