Irregular, missed or late periods: Should you be worried?
Let’s face it – periods are not exactly reliable. While some women+ could be used to clockwork flows, others have learned to expect the unexpected every month, and most of us will experience irregular periods at some point – whether they’re late, early, or missed altogether!
Even though periods are usually explained as simply the few days a month in the menstrual cycle where our uterus lining is shed as blood, in reality we know it’s much more complicated than that. Every body is unique and even the same person could experience two weeks of heavy bleeding at some point and other months, no period at all! It’s also possible for your period to come a little earlier or later than you may expect.
We can bet you’ve come to realise that the length and heaviness of your periods can seem like a monthly lottery, filled with surprises. However, just because you have irregular periods it doesn’t necessarily mean that something is wrong!
What counts as an irregular period?
Irregular menstruation can mean many things. It could be that you’ve started bleeding earlier or later than usual. You could be experiencing unusually light bleeding or a heavier than normal flow. Or it can mean skipping a month (amenorrhea) or having two periods in one month (metrorrhagia). While these issues may be common, it’s always a good idea to ask your doctor for help if you’re particularly worried about your irregular periods.
What are some of the causes of irregular periods?
There are many possible causes of irregular periods and unsurprisingly nearly all of them are related to hormonal changes; so let’s take a look:
Puberty is all about change and adjustment – and that doesn’t exclude periods! As your body regulates the release of new hormones, not only are irregular periods common but they are to be expected – so give it time as you go through this milestone in growing up.
In contrast to puberty, perimenopause (the time leading up to and around menopause) involves the start of your body slowing down the production of hormones and eventually stopping ovulation.
So as the amount of oestrogen and progesterone gradually decreases and ovulation loses its routine, it is likely that your periods will start to become more irregular until they are completely gone. This may seem a little unusual at first, especially since you’ve probably gotten used to having your period pop in to say hi every month, but it’s just the beginning of a new chapter in your life!
Pregnancy and childbirth
Pregnancy and childbirth come with many different changes (you are bringing a new person into the world after all), and your period is included in them!
Not having your period is one of the first signs that you may be pregnant but that is not the only change your menstrual cycle may go through. It’s also normal for you to experience irregular patterns in your first periods after pregnancy as your hormone levels begin to change again. Just remember this is all a natural part of the pregnancy and postpartum journey.
Contraception can affect your menstrual cycle because most types work by releasing hormones to your body, which prevent sperm from reaching the egg. All these extra hormones can make your periods irregular at first and settle after a while (or even go away completely!) – so try to be patient with your body and give it time to adjust.
It’s also common for stress to take its toll on your period. You might have started at a new school or job, or maybe you’re experiencing problems with your love life. Maybe a family argument or upcoming exam is making you feel a little anxious. What happens is that stress produces a hormone called cortisol and too much of it in your bloodstream can mess with the amount of oestrogen and progesterone (the hormones responsible for menstruation) that your body produces.
We know how easy it can be to ironically stress about feeling stressed. But when this happens, it’s worth refocusing and making the effort to instead make some time for exercise, have a chat with a close friend or watch your favourite series. And if those feelings persist, why not get help from a mental health professional?
Is it possible to have 2 periods in a month?
Just when you may have thought your one period per cycle was enough, turns out it is possible for your flow to visit more than once in a month. Although it isn’t very common, menstruating twice or more in a month can happen due to a hormone imbalance triggered by puberty, perimenopause, pregnancy, childbirth, contraception or stress.
And yes, the last thing we need are two rounds of PMS so close to one another, but they don’t necessarily mean something is off – if you are worried about it though, it’s a good idea to see your gynaecologist for further information and help.
Why does my period sometimes stop and start?
Have you ever felt relieved that your period has finally finished for the month, only to find some blood in your underwear the next day? We’ve all been there and it can be very annoying, but other than that, it really isn’t something to worry about; your period stopping and starting again is actually quite a common thing to happen.
These day-to-day variations in flow are usually caused when a bit of tissue from the uterus lining blocks the cervix and stops letting menstrual blood through. This is usually only a temporary barrier and as soon as the tissue finds its ways out then your flow will appear again. A useful tip is to keep liners or towels at hand even after you think your period stopped, just in case!
What about if I’ve missed a period or my period is late?
Missing a period, or even a couple periods can be worrying or even exciting (if you’re trying for a baby). But if you are concerned, it can help to find out the reason behind it quickly, so you can put your mind at ease and start working towards solving the problem (if there is one).
One of the first signs of pregnancy is indeed missing a period, so that’s a place to start. If you’ve had unprotected sex in the previous weeks, it’s wise to check by taking a pregnancy test or seeing a doctor.
Otherwise, your period might just be late.
How late can a period be?
It’s totally normal for periods to vary from month to month and for them to be a few days late ; this depends a lot on everyone’s particular body. So, a late or even missed period doesn’t always mean that you’re pregnant. Whether you’re sexually active or not, there are a few other possible causes of late or missed periods:
- Sudden weight loss
- Excessive exercise
Your periods stopping can also sometimes be the result of a medical condition, such as PCOS, heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, an overactive thyroid or premature menopause. So, if you’ve missed more than 3 periods in a row, and you’ve checked that you aren’t pregnant, you should make an appointment with your doctor so that they can give you the best medical advice.
Should I do something about irregular periods?
Bottomline is there is no need to immediately worry if you have an irregular, missed or late period. Your menstrual cycle can be thrown off balance due to a number of reasons but it does tend to regulate itself on its own – after all, our bodies are great at pivoting and adjusting to change.
What you can do, though, is keep track of the length and frequency of your periods by either jotting them down in a journal or using a period tracker. The better you know your menstrual cycle, the easier it will be for you to tell when something really is off.
Got any other period related issues you want to learn more about? Head over to our page on period problems to find out more.
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.