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10 Things Your Menstrual Cycle Tells You About Your Body

Your menstrual cycle can affect your energy, mood, sleep, skin, immune system, hormones and fertility, and it’s the best indicator of your overall health. Abnormalities can suggest potential health problems or concerns within the reproductive system. 

If you’re between the ages of 12 and 52, chances are you have a menstrual cycle that lasts between 20 and 35 days. Your period is just one of the four phases of your cycle, which also includes the ovulation, follicular and luteal phases. 

As fertility draws to a close around your late 40s or early 50s, your period changes and eventually stops during menopause. Perimenopause lasts about four to eight years before menopause begins and typically includes lighter or less frequent periods. Hot flashes, irritability and sleeping problems are also typical signs of perimenopause. 

Abnormal Periods 

Your period is unique — in blood flow, color and cycle duration. Tracking your cycle and period can help you recognize an abnormal cycle, usually involving one or more of the following: 

●  Heavier or lighter menstrual flow than usual

●  Painful periods

●  Missed periods, known as amenorrhea

●  Bleeding or spotting between periods 

What Does an Irregular Period Mean? 

Menstrual irregularities occur in an estimated 14% to 25% of women of childbearing age, with possible causes including:

Anemia. A whiteish, diluted flow can be a symptom of severe anemia, especially if you notice your period getting lighter and lighter when it would ordinarily get a bit heavier. After monitoring your period for two or three cycles, if you're worried that this could be the case, talk to your doctor about getting tested for nutritional deficiencies.

Cancer, STD or STI. Spotting between periods can sometimes be a sign of cervical, endometrial or ovarian cancer. Yeast infection, chlamydia and other conditions can also result in bleeding between periods.

Diabetes. Women with irregular menstrual cycles, especially those longer than 40 days, have a higher risk for Type 2 diabetes. Younger women between ages 18 and 22 with irregular periods are even more at risk.

Endometriosis. If you suddenly start to have intense lower back or pelvic pain during your period, it could be endometriosis — a condition in which uterine tissue gets into the pelvic cavity and adheres to nearby organs such as the ovaries, fallopian tubes and even the rectum.

Heart disease and stroke. When you have amenorrhea or are in menopause, your ovaries may no longer make estrogen. Lowered estrogen levels can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Osteoporosis. If you have amenorrhea, you could be losing bone mass, putting you at risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition that causes your bones to weaken and break easily.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or thyroid dysfunction. Some women’s periods last only three days and others bleed for six or seven. But menorrhagia — prolonged or heavy flow that extends longer than one week — could be a sign of PCOS or an overactive or underactive thyroid.

Primary ovarian insufficiency. Years of irregular or occasional periods could be a sign of a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency or premature ovarian failure — the loss of normal ovarian function that occurs before age 40. When this happens, your ovaries don't produce typical amounts of the hormone estrogen or release eggs regularly, often leading to infertility.

Uterine fibroids. Heavy and prolonged menstrual periods can be a symptom of uterine fibroids — noncancerous growths of the uterus. Low progesterone levels and high estrogen levels could be to blame. And while some clotting is normal, clots the size of a quarter or larger can indicate a serious hormonal imbalance.

Weight gain. As body weight increases, so do estrogen levels, which can cause period flow to become heavier. Higher estrogen levels associated with obesity are also considered a risk factor for hormonal cancers.

If you’re experiencing any abnormalities during your menstrual cycle, you should speak to a doctor who can diagnose the condition and help you seek treatment.

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