A menstrual cycle or “period” is an event that will accompany most women for the vast majority of their lives. And at times, your menstrual cycle will change, going from heavy to light, erratic, or even painful. Given all these changes, it’s helpful to know when a disturbance in your cycle is a sign of something significant or if it means nothing at all.

What’s normal

Start from the beginning and consider what a normal period is for you.

Every woman has a menstrual cycle that is specific to her body. Hormonal levels, lifestyle factors, medical history, and age all play a role in shaping what a ‘normal’ period looks like for each woman. To assist with this, consider the following:

  • Does your period usually fall on the same date each month? (If you can’t remember the timing, it might be worth keeping a written calendar to track your period or downloading a free smartphone app to do the same thing)
  • Is the flow of your period similar each month? (ie. do you use a comparable number of pads/tampons each cycle?)
  • Is your period extremely heavy or light?
  • Is your period always painful?

The answers to these questions should give you a rough idea of how best to describe your period. It’s good to know what ‘normal’ looks like for you. This makes it easier to spot the abnormal.

When to see your OBGYN

Small changes in the timing or flow of your period generally aren’t anything of concern. However, if any of the following are experienced, then be sure to make an appointment to see one of our providers:

  • A period that is always accompanied by debilitating pain, so much so that it keeps you home from work or school.
  • A period with a flow that is extremely heavy (ie. bleeding that requires more than one tampon/pad in an hour, for several hours in a row)
  • A consistently irregular period
  • If you haven’t had your period for more than 90 days
  • Bleeding for more than 1 week
  • Bleeding in between periods
  • Any vaginal bleeding after menopause

Many of the symptoms above may be signs of more serious gynecological conditions like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome or fibroids. So it’s important to get it checked out.

What Can Your OBGYN do?

One of our physicians, nurse practitioners or certified nurse midwives will be able to take a medical history and carry out a physical exam. This will help determine the cause of any issues you’ve noticed with your period. Your healthcare provider may ask about:

  • Past medical history
  • Family history
  • Pregnancy and obstetric history
  • History of your period (ie. The age you first had it, any pain you experienced, duration)

Based on this information, your doctor may recommend some further tests. A trial of medication or watchful waiting are other options that may be considered.

Thankfully, your period will usually come and go without issue. But when changes do occur, speak to your provider about any concerns you may have. If you’re unsure, it’s best to err on the side of caution and speak to your healthcare professional.