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Written by: Dr. Amy Beckley, PhD, Founder and Inventor of the Proov test — the first and only FDA-cleared test to confirm successful ovulation at home.
Written on 7/26/21
Not only can irregular periods be annoying, but they can also be a sign of a greater health issue or hormonal imbalance.
Irregular periods can be annoying. If your periods aren’t regular, how are you supposed to prepare for Aunt Flo’s arrival? It can be downright frustrating!
Not only can irregular periods be annoying, but they can also be a sign of a greater health issue or hormonal imbalance. Keep reading to learn more about irregular periods and how to manage them.
The first step to understanding whether or not your periods are irregular is tracking your cycle. You first need to understand how long your cycles are. Although the average length of a cycle is about 28 days, a normal cycle may last anywhere between 21 and 35 days.
If your cycles last about the same amount of days and you ovulate on approximately the same day cycle to cycle, then you can say your period is regular. We also like to see a healthy luteal phase of at least 11 days long, although ideally it should be closer to 13 or 14 days. The luteal phase is the time between ovulation and your next period.
The truth is that our hormones can fluctuate and our bodies constantly change. Because of this, it is not unusual for your period to be a few days late or a few days early once in a while. As long as it doesn’t become a pattern, you can still call your periods regular.
In order to keep up on your cycle health and detect any changes in length sooner rather than later, it’s important to track your cycles. Cycle tracking can empower you with information about your fertility and overall health.
Here are some signs that your period may be irregular:
In order to keep up on your cycle health and detect any changes in length sooner rather than later, it’s important to track your cycles.
As we mentioned, periods occasionally come a little late or a little early. But if irregular bleeding becomes a pattern, there is usually a reason behind it. The main causes of irregular cycles are:
Puberty: During the first two years of cycling, periods may be irregular until your hormones balance out and your pattern becomes more regular.
Hormonal imbalances: A hormonal imbalance can be one of many different issues. Be it estrogen dominance, a thyroid disorder, or high prolactin levels, our hormones are extremely delicate. A little too much or not enough of one hormone may throw the entire balance off. Hormone testing can help you detect the issue so you can properly treat it.
Luteal phase defect: Luteal phase defect or a short luteal phase is caused by inadequate progesterone production during the luteal phase. Once you ovulate, the empty follicle starts producing progesterone to support things like, cognitive function, bone health, and implantation. If your body doesn’t produce enough progesterone after ovulation, your luteal phase will be shorter than 11 days which in turn can make your cycles shorter than usual.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): PCOS is one of the most common causes of irregular periods and about 1 in 10 women have PCOS. A highly underdiagnosed endocrine disorder, PCOS causes anovulation (a lack of ovulation) and with it, irregular periods. Sometimes, because of high androgen (male sex hormone) levels throughout the cycle, women who have PCOS may stop having periods completely.
Stress: The connection between stress and periods has been long established by scientists. Prolonged periods of stress may increase your cortisol levels which can inhibit progesterone production, causing a hormonal imbalance or luteal phase defect. Stress in this case can mean many different things, from extreme crossfit and marathon training, to working long hours or not getting enough sleep.
Anovulation: Anovulation, or a lack of ovulation, may be a normal event as long as it happens just once in a while. Studies show that up to one-third of regular cycles may be anovulatory. As long as it is an isolated event, it’s nothing to worry about. But if your hormone tests (like a PdG test) show you’re not ovulating consistently, you may want to consult your doctor.
Abnormal body weight: Weight issues are another common cause of irregular periods. PCOS is often linked to a higher body weight which can impact ovulation. On the other hand, being underweight can cause your body to think you’re in a famine which means it will stop menstruating altogether.
Hormonal birth control: Hormonal contraception, like the pill, may cause irregular periods once you first start taking it as your body adjusts to the new hormone levels. If you keep on having irregular or breakthrough bleeding after the first few months on birth control, we recommend talking to your doctor as you might want to explore a different option.
Perimenopause: Perimenopause is the period of time during which your body makes the transition towards menopause. It may last up to 10 years and although most women don’t begin to have signs and symptoms until well into their late 40s, other women may notice the signs as early as their late 30s. These are due to hormonal changes and can be kept under control with various treatments, including diet, exercise, or supplements. Even though your cycles may become irregular during perimenopause, conception is still possible. If you are not trying to conceive, your doctor may suggest contraception unless you’ve already gone one full year without a period.
Perimenopause may last up to 10 years and although most women don’t begin to have signs and symptoms until well into their late 40s, other women may notice the signs as early as their late 30s.
If you’re starting to experience irregular periods, the first thing you may notice is a change in the length of your cycle. Your periods may get closer together or you may only have a period every few months.
You may also notice changes in the way your actual period, such as a few days of spotting before your flow starts. Sometimes the length and heaviness of your period can change as well. You may experience clots or the typical red blood might be replaced by a light, pink or brown bleeding.
If your irregular periods are due to hormonal changes (as is the case of perimenopause) you might experience symptoms like hot flashes, fatigue, moodiness, bloating, or poor sleep. This is typically the result of an imbalance between estrogen and progesterone.
Before you can treat an irregular period, you need to figure out what the cause is so that you can treat it correctly. For example, an irregular period caused by PCOS wouldn’t be treated the same as an irregular period caused by perimenopause!
Hormone testing can help you better understand the underlying cause of your irregular cycles. FSH tests, for example, can identify whether or not your irregular cycles are caused in part by your ovaries not working properly. On the other hand, PdG tests can help you determine if “weak” ovulation is causing an overall hormone imbalance, leading to irregular cycles.
Regardless, healthy lifestyle habits like diet changes, exercise, and getting enough sleep can help promote a healthy hormone balance and regular periods. The Proov Insight app is designed to provide easy all-month tracking, numerical results, hormone insights, and a personalized action plan to help you reach your goals. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting your doctor.
Understanding your cycle and whether or not your periods are regular can help you reach your unique fertility goals faster!