Is This Normal? My Period Was Regular and Now It’s Not
You’ve got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We’ve got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.
Dear Is This Normal,
I’ve been struggling with some inconsistencies in my period. For years, I’ve had a regular period, and just recently it started being really irregular. I’m not on any sort of hormonal birth control, and though I was in my late teens and early twenties, I’ve been off it for a while now. Any insight?
Irregular and Confused
Dear Irregular and Confused,
This letter hit close to home, as I’ve struggled with irregular periods for years. It’s frustrating, and I totally get it. Women and vulva-owners already have so much to deal with (lower pay, our basic reproductive rights being threatened) that it seems totally unjust that we also get menstrual irregularities thrown into the mix. Sending virtual hugs.
Now on to solving your problem. I’m no doctor, so I can’t diagnose you with anything or provide any sort of medical advice, but I can hopefully point you in the direction of some possible solutions. For one, irregular periods aren’t necessarily normal—but they are common. An irregular period might be a sign that something is up with your body, and that is certainly worth investigating.
“An irregular cycle shows up a few different ways, depending on the person,” says menstrual health coach Melissa Kerner. “Bleeding longer than five to seven days, a cycle that’s longer or shorter than the ‘normal’ cycle of 28 to 33 days, missing periods, and especially heavy periods could all be signs of an irregular period.”
If you are experiencing any of the above, there are some common reasons for your irregular periods. To help, we connected with health professionals. But please consider bringing it up with a trusted medical professional—and good luck! (I really feel for you on this one.)
You might be pregnant.
“As a medical professional, the first thing I think of when I hear the phrase ‘irregular period’ is pregnancy,” says Dr. Sophia Yen of Pandia Health, the only doctor-founded and doctor-led birth control distributor in the United States. But don’t let this freak you out—if you’re not sexually active, you’re not pregnant. If you are sexually active, a missed or irregular period doesn’t guarantee pregnancy, but it’s better to have peace of mind and cross out that possibility.
“If there’s any chance you might be pregnant, take a test,” Dr. Yen adds. She also notes that it can sometimes take up to 14 days post-sex for the hormones to show up, so take this into consideration when taking your test. At the very least, you’ll have peace of mind and be able to cross this possibility off of your list.
You’re stressed out.
Let’s be real: 2020 hasn’t been an easy year for anyone. (Except maybe for Jeff Bezos.) Between a pandemic, wildfires, unemployment, and an anxiety-filled election, there are myriad reasons as to why you might be experiencing stress right now. Stress can take a toll on so many facets of our life, and that includes our menstrual cycles.
“When you’re stressed, your brain goes into fight-or-flight mode,” says Dr. Yen. “It assumes you’re being chased by a tiger, even if the threat isn’t that obvious. And if your body thinks you’re in danger, it might assume that it’s a bad time to let go of an egg and could push off your ovulation.”
If you’ve been going through a particularly rough time or feel other symptoms of stress, then this could be a valid reason for your period problems. Dr. Yen suggests visiting a doctor after you miss your second period, and definitely go to the doctor if you skip three. In the meantime, find ways to practice self-care and promote relaxation.
“An imbalance can also be caused by what we put into our bodies and what we do not put into our bodies,” adds Kerner. “We need nutrients and proper nourishment to support our menstrual cycle. Food is medicine, and when we use it as medicine, our bodies are nourished and happy.” Kerner notes that some things that can cause hormone imbalances include coffee and caffeine, sugar, and alcohol. In addition to heavy periods, hormone imbalances can also show up as headaches, exhaustion, mood swings, and weight gain.
You’re not eating enough or your weight has fluctuated.
“Another common reason for period problems is not eating enough or exercising too much,” says Dr. Yen. “Even if you’re not trying to lose weight, you might be burning more calories than you consume, which could cause you to you lose your period.”
Dr. Yen notes that this follows a similar formula to the stress example above, as when your body is in "running from a tiger" mode, your body's lack of calories or nutrients—like being on a low-carb diet—can alter your period and make it irregular.
Dr. Yen notes that obesity can also factor into period irregularities, as increased insulin levels can accompany weight gain and transform female hormones into male hormones, causing a hormonal disorder known as Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS affects one in ten women, and though it is most common among women in a higher weight category, that’s not a requirement for having PCOS.
“Doctors will often diagnose women with PCOS after finding out they’ve missed a period and then confirm it with a blood test,” Dr. Yen says. In addition to weight gain and irregular periods, other symptoms of PCOS include increased acne, body hair, oily skin, and hair loss.
Something is up with your thyroid.
While not often discussed, thyroid problems can be another culprit behind wacked-out periods.
“Some women may experience low or high levels of thyroid problems, both of which can throw off your menstrual cycle,” says Dr. Yen. With hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, interfering with the menstrual cycle. Hyperthyroidism is the exact opposite in that it occurs when the body is producing too many thyroid hormones, but it’s similar because it also causes period problems, like stopping it completely.
In any case, you can talk to your medical provider about any suspected thyroid issues. In most cases, they’ll ask a few questions and do some bloodwork. Oftentimes, treatment is managed with medication, so don’t freak out if you suspect this is what’s going on with your body.
At the end of the day…
It can be hard to be a menstruating person! I understand that your irregular period might feel confusing and even a little scary right now, but hope is certainly not lost.
Do a little digging into the possibilities behind your missed period, and consider talking to a professional to help sort out what’s what.