All about each symptom of menopause
women going through menopause
Irregular Periods
Reader Comments

We at believe in an ongoing dialogue with our readers and value their feedback.

To leave a comment, concern, tip, or experience about irregular periods, please leave your comment below.

Irregular Periods

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.

what are irregular periods

About Irregular Periods

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 28 - 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.

symptoms of irregular periods

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
  • Missed periods

Irregularities in flow

  • Changes in blood flow
  • Blood clots larger than an inch (2.5 cm) in diameter

Irregularities in pain

  • Painful cramping

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.


Women's Age vs. Fertility

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.

Special cases

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.

Menstrual Period Calendar: Keeping Track

As women near the end of their reproductive years, menstrual irregularities are some of the first indicators of the beginning of the menopausal transition. Period calendars are an important tool for those looking to track any abnormalities. Click here to learn more about period calendars as well as how to best use them.

Tests for Irregular Periods: Blood, Hormones, and More

Another fairly common cause of irregular periods is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In order to find out if this is the case a doctor will take your blood pressure, order blood tests, and possibly also carry out an ultrasound scan.These can reveal the levels of hormones, and the presence of cysts if they exist.

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 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 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.

causes of 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.

Health conditions

  • Eating disorders
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Uterine abnormalities (fibroids, cysts, polyps, and endometriosis)
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Tuberculosis
  • Recent birth, miscarriage, or dilation and curettage ("D and C")
  • Liver disease
  • Diabetes
  • Cancer
  • Anemia

Lifestyle triggers

  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Over-exercise
  • Poor nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Drug use
  • Caffeine
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Increased stress
  • Medication
  • Breastfeeding

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  
  • Missed periods
  • Painful cramping
  • Abnormal duration of bleeding
  • Changes in blood flow
  • Blood clots

Click here to read more about the causes of irregular periods or continue reading to understand the treatment options available for irregular periods.

Possible Reasons for Unusually Heavy Periods

While oftentimes contraception is prescribed to alleviate heavy and irregular periods, some types have been known to cause them. For example, the coil - also known as the intrauterine contraceptive device (IUCD). There are a number of other contraceptives to choose from, if the coil is problematic for you.

Why Am I Having Irregular Periods?

Irregular or unpredictable periods, heavy bleeding, painful periods, and spotting between periods are all symptomatic of menstrual irregularity. The menstrual cycle is closely linked with the body's physical and emotional well-being, and irregular periods are usually an outward indicator of changes or issues in the body.

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.

treating irregular periods

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).


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.


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.

Click on the following link to learn more about specific treatments for irregular periods.

Best Ways to Track Your Periods: Menstruation Trackers

Many companies that produce sanitary products also offer online period-tracking services; tampax being one of the more popular options. It can simply be used without needing to set up an account, by merely inputting information regarding your last period: the date, duration, and length of your menstrual cycle.

The Most Commonly Prescribed Medicine for Irregular Periods

For those who prefer a natural approach to medication, it can sometimes be possible to regulate periods using supplements such as soy or black cohosh. These contain substances known as phytoestrogens, which are plant-based hormones that mimic the action of estrogen in women. Like HRT, these can be suggested for treating all menopausal symptoms.

  • 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
Irregular Periods

General articles

Updated on Nov 15, 2017
Light Irregular Period: Is It Perimenopause?
Light periods - or "spotting" - can often occur in the early years of puberty. After menarche, hormonal levels fluctuate causing consequent periods to be light, heavy, long, or short. On average a woman will get her monthly bleed every 28 days, but at this young age they could be anything between 21 and 45 days apart.
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.
Updated on Jun 06, 2014
Menstrual Disorders
Although period disorders can be painful and uncomfortable, there are ways to relieve some of the symptoms. Read on to discover more about the different types, causes, and treatments of menstrual disorders, and take charge of your reproductive health today.