A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Heavy or light, long or short: 3 things to know about irregular periods

irregular periods 6-21 inside

Irregular periods are anything outside the monthly cycle of bleeding for two to seven days, or a change from a women’s regular pattern.

Once a month, women can experience aches and cramps – signs their next period is coming. For most women, their period is predictable. They know how long it will last, and its arrival doesn’t change month-to-month.

But what if your period comes every six weeks or maybe every two weeks? These can be signs of an irregular period. Your provider can help determine the cause and provide you with options on how to get it back on track.

Regular vs. irregular

A women’s menstrual period is a repetitive monthly cycle that occurs anywhere from 28 to 35 days. Bleeding can last from two to seven days with the first day of bleeding being Day 1 of the menstrual cycle.

“Most menstrual periods have a similar pattern from girl to girl, especially from ages 20 to 40, said Ann Sommer, a Marshfield Clinic OB/GYN physician assistant. “There are more differences to girl’s periods in the first five to seven years, and the 10 years prior to the ending of a girl’s menses.”

Irregular periods are anything outside the monthly cycle of bleeding for two to seven days (recurring every 28 to 35 days), or a change from a women’s regular pattern. Irregular means there could be a change in how often the periods happen, how much bleeding or how long bleeding occurs. This affects 10 to 35 percent of women.

Typically changes include regular monthly cycles that have become heavier or longer, such as bleeding occurring between the menses, or bleeding part of the cycle, or any irregular bleeding patterns or bleeding that has now stopped. Pregnancy is the number one reason that bleeding has stopped.

Other most common reasons for irregularity with menses are linked to pregnancy, medicine use, structure changes to the reproductive organs or bleeding disorders.

“These are not the only reasons,” Sommer said. “However, if a girl has a regular pattern and then that changes significantly, she should be evaluated by her medical provider.”

Treatment options to regulate periods

Choices for treatment are based on the correct diagnosis.

“The goal is always to control the bleeding and treat any problems the bleeding may be causing,” Sommer said.

Many times, initial treatment involves medication. Most medications contain hormones, either in combination or alone, depending on the patient and diagnosis. Hormones are either estrogen or progesterone, in combined or single forms. The various forms of hormones include pills, injectable or “shot” and implantable devices.

“There are patients who do not qualify for hormones if they have certain risk factors that could put them in harm’s way,” Sommer said. “This is also another reason why medical provider evaluation is important in the work-up of why menstrual cycles change.”

Periods and bone health

There’s a connection between the two. When one is working well the other is, too.

Osteoporosis occurs when a person’s bones are thin, weak, and can easily break. Estrogen, a hormone that helps a women’s body and bones stay strong, is naturally made by her ovaries.

Unless ovary function is not making enough estrogen in a woman who is not near menopause, hormones to prevent bone thinning or osteoporosis usually are not used. Estrogen also is not used in women after menopause to prevent bone loss problems.

If you have questions about the regularity of periods or think your period is irregular, talk to your provider.

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