Having an irregular period means that they do not come at the same time every month. You may have your period earlier or later than usual, or it may not follow any pattern at all. Having an irregular menstruation is neither strange nor dangerous. However, it can be difficult when you can't predict when your period will come. Here we look at what irregular periods mean and the most common concerns about them.
What counts as an irregular period?
A regular period means that your period comes at regular intervals of 25-32 days - the most common being a 28-day cycle. It can vary by up to 4 days without being considered irregular.
An irregular period means that your menstrual cycle varies over more than 4 days, and your period comes earlier than 25 days or later than 32 days. There are several different apps you can use to keep track of your cycle, or you can just make a note in your calendar on your phone. This way you can see if your period is regular or irregular. Some people always have more or less irregular periods, and this is completely harmless. If you have an irregular period and find it difficult, you can contact a midwife or a health centre.
Causes of an irregular period
Some of the most common causes of an irregular period are:
- You have just started your period. During the first few months of your period, your period may be irregular - this is common. This is because your body is not used to the hormones and your ovulation hasn't started yet. It usually stabilises after a few months and your period becomes regular.
- Contraceptives can often lead to an irregular period. This may be the first time you have started taking contraception or started a new contraceptive. Irregular periods due to contraception usually settle down after 3-6 months.
- A sudden change in weight can be a cause of irregular or missed periods. This applies to both weight gain and weight loss. Weight change can alter the hormones that lead to irregular or missed periods. Excessive exercise is also a cause of missed or irregular periods.
- Stress is a common cause of missed or irregular periods. It can be severe stress or psychological problems such as anxiety, worry or depression. You can seek help for these causes and therapy may help.
- Hormonal imbalance can lead to an irregular period. One cause of hormonal imbalance is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), where the ovaries produce too much of the hormone testosterone. The testosterone in the body prevents the eggs from developing enough to ovulate.
- After pregnancy, periods may not occur or may become irregular. During and after pregnancy, the body goes through a big change, and it may take some time for the body to get back to normal.
- During the menopause, the hormonal balance of the body changes, periods become irregular and eventually stop. Irregular periods are one of the earliest signs of menopause. At first, it is common for periods to come more often, even twice in a month. Then it becomes less frequent.
With an irregular period, your period may come earlier, be delayed, or not come at all. An early period means that you have recently had your period and it is coming close in time again. It can be as early as after just a few days. Early menstruations are not strange - they happen sometimes and are perfectly natural. It means that you have ovulated earlier than expected, which means that your period will start earlier. Menstruation that starts earlier than 25 days is usually considered a short menstrual cycle. It is difficult to pinpoint a reason for early periods, but stress is a common cause. Early periods or bleeding before you expect your period to come can be mixed up with intermenstrual bleeding or spotting.
Your period being late can make many people think they are pregnant - but this is not always the case. The fact that your period is sometimes late does not necessarily mean that something is wrong. It is normal and very common for the period cycle to vary by a few days. Sometimes there is no particular reason other than the body doing things at its own pace. If your period is late, it could be due to stress, a major change in your body, or a sudden change of environment such as a long journey. If you've had unprotected sex and your period is late, it could mean you're pregnant and you should take a pregnancy test. If you have an irregular period, it is extra important to use contraception to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, as it is difficult to predict your ovulation.
Missing a period can mean that your period disappears temporarily for a month or disappears completely. If you have missed a period, a pregnancy test may be useful to rule out pregnancy as the cause. Missing a period do not need treatment if the cause is stress, anxiety, or a change of environment. You can go to counselling to reduce your stress and anxiety. If you have had a major weight change or missed your period for more than 6 months, you should contact your doctor to find out the cause.
Treatment of irregular periods
If you experience the following symptoms, you should contact a midwife, health centre or gynaecological clinic:
- You have had irregular periods for a long time and find them bothersome
- You have had a menstrual bleed even though you are in the menopause and have not had a period for at least a year
- You have irregular periods and are trying to get pregnant
A common remedy for irregular periods is hormonal contraceptives such as birth control pills, a hormonal IUD, a contraceptive patch, or a contraceptive ring. It helps your period return to a regular period cycle or makes it disappear completely. If the cause of your irregular period is psychological factors such as stress, you may need other treatments such as counselling. If it is due to a rapid change in weight, you will need professional help to find out what has caused the change.