Irregular Periods

Menstruation is the process of shedding of the uterine lining in females of reproductive age. It is also known as menstrual periods or menses. When a woman reaches puberty, during every menstrual cycle,  an egg in the ovary matures and is released into the fallopian tube. This egg is supposed to be fertilized by a sperm, and then implant itself on the uterus lining, resulting in pregnancy. Hence, the uterus starts preparing itself by thickening its lining, known as endometrium, to receive the fertilized egg. However, if the egg is not fertilized by the sperm, the egg and the endometrial lining (which starts to break), are released through the vagina in the form of menstrual bleeding.

What are irregular periods?
The average menstrual cycle for women is of 28 days. A monthly cycle at a gap of 21 to 35 days and periods which lasts for 3 to 7 days are considered to be normal. On an average, a regular menstruation period normally lasts for about 5 days, but the duration may differ from individual to individual. If the gap between menstrual cycle is less than 21 days or more than 35 days, the menstrual periods may last for less than 3 days and more than 7 days respectively, or if there is particularly heavy or extremely scanty bleeding, then the woman can be said to be suffering from irregular periods. Sometimes, women also experience missed menses or two cycles in a month; these abnormalities can also be considered as irregular periods.

Periods and pregnancy
When the egg released by the ovary is fertilized, the thickened uterine lining provides cushioning and it develops into a baby. Thus pregnancy is one of the major factors for a missed period. A woman might not start menstruating again until she continues breast feeding.

Causes of irregular periods
Irregular periods generally occur due to hormonal imbalances. Hormones like oestrogen and progesterone trigger ovulation and menstruation, and if there is any abnormality in production of these hormones, the process of ovulation is hindered. This in turn causes irregularities in the menstrual cycle.

  • Menarche– A girl might experience irregular menstrual cycle for some time after her first period. It might take up to 3 years to get back to the regular menstrual cycle.
  • Menopause– As menopause causes major changes in hormonal levels in a woman’s body, she may often experience irregular periods before menopause.
  • Stress– Stress is one of the major factors affecting hormone secretions in the body and this can sometimes result in irregularities in menstrual cycle.
  • Diet and weight issues– It is very important to eat nutritious food. An unbalanced diet may cause extreme weight gain or extreme weight loss, and this in turn may affect the menstrual cycle, causing irregularities and abnormalities.
  • Exercise– Excessive exercise can cause missed or late periods. Athletes, who undergo endurance training, often experience irregular periods. In such cases, they are advised to stop strenuous exercises for some time, until their menstrual cycle gets regularized.
  • Hormonal birth control– Hormonal birth control pills and irregular menses go hand in hand. Since the body takes time to adjust itself to the changed level of hormones, caused by administration of these pills, the regular menstrual cycle may get disrupted.
  • Poly-cystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)- It is a very common disease affecting at least 10% of women. PCOS can cause irregularities in menstrual cycle. PCOS causes cyst formation on the ovaries, thus hindering the regular ovulation process, resulting in missed periods. PCOS is very common and can be treated, however, if left untreated can cause complications.
  • Inflammatory bowel syndrome– It is a diseases related to the intestine in which there is inflammation of the intestine; this can result in irregular periods.

Treatment
A healthy, stress-free lifestyle, an ideal weight, regular exercise and meditation can together help in regularising periods.

  • Avoid exercising too much
  • Consult a doctor if you are suffering from any eating disorders
  • Maintain an ideal weight through exercise and diet
  • Yoga can help to restore overall health and regularise periods
  • Resort to meditation; it is a great stress buster
  • Make sure you sleep for at least 6-8 hours during the night

If weight management and healthy living do not solve the problem medical help should be taken asap.
Medication
Birth control pills correct the lack or imbalance of certain hormones in the body. Hence, they are used as a treatment of irregular periods, which are generally due to change in hormonal levels. However, such medications induce menses without addressing the underlying problem. Hence, determining the underlying cause and bringing in healthy lifestyle changes along with the hormonal contraceptive treatment is very essential.

Hormone supplements
After examination and tests, your doctor finds out the specific hormone that is causing the problem. Administering hormonal supplements can help regulate your menstrual cycle.

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