Period problems at a glance
- Period problems, or menstruation problems, include missed and irregular periods, abnormally heavy bleeding, and unusual pain, cramping or discomfort.
- Women’s periods vary in terms of how long they last, how often they occur, how much bleeding occurs, and the level of pain and discomfort.
- Women should consult their doctor in the event of sudden or major changes to their normal flow, as these changes may signify a serious issue such as endometriosis, PCOS or cancer, all of which can lead to infertility.
- Period problems can be treated and hormonal therapy is the first-line option; the medication Lysteda can be taken during a woman’s period, so she can still become pregnant while undergoing treatment.
What are period problems?
Periods vary for different women, in the amount of blood and fluid discharged, in the timing of events and in the discomfort experienced. During a woman’s period, her uterus is shedding the lining it prepared to receive a fertilized embryo, which did not occur, hence the shedding.
Significant variations in a woman’s menstruation, or period, can cause problematic symptoms, such as heavy bleeding (menorrhagia), pain, cramping (dysmenorrhea) irregular timing and missed periods (amenorrhea). These problems affect many women to varying degrees, from annoying to lifestyle-altering to incapacitating.
The causes of period problems can often be identified and treated, so it is important that women be attuned to changes in their normal period and share their observations with their physician. Problems during a period can also indicate the presence of an underlying disease, including cancer, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. These can lead to or indicate infertility.
Treatment for period problems
Hormone therapy is the option most often used to treat period problems, because the hormones given counteract abnormal levels of a woman’s reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone that regulate menstruation. Birth control contains these hormones, which act to prevent production of an egg and to keep the uterus lining from thickening. The result is reduced pain, blood flow and cramping.
The type of birth control a doctor may prescribe depends on the patient’s specific problem and other factors about her health and preference. Following are the main types of birth control options to treat period problems:
- Birth control pills, contain estrogen and progestin (synthetic progesterone)
- Contraceptive patch, contains estrogen and progestin
- Vaginal ring, contains estrogen and progestin
- An intrauterine device (IUD) releases progestin, and the levonorgestrel IUD is effective for five years
- Implant, placed under the skin releases progestin
- Depo-Provera shot, given every three months and releases progestin.
Women who would like the option to become pregnant while receiving treatment for heavy bleeding, may be prescribed the medication Lysteda. Lysteda is only taken during a woman’s period, so she can still ovulate and have the chance to become pregnant each month.
Types of period problems
Heavy bleeding during a menstrual cycle is referred to as menorrhagia. During a typical period, women will discharge about 1.3-4 tablespoons of blood. An abnormal flow is usually characterized by more than 5 tablespoons of blood.
Generally, it’s normal for a woman to soak 1-7 normal size pads or tampons during her period. If a woman is bleeding through her pad or tampon within an hour for several hours in a row, she likely has a heavy bleeding issue that should be addressed with a doctor.
Heavy bleeding can occur for a variety of reasons ranging from issues with birth control pills and IUDs to fibroids or cervical cancer. The treatment method recommended will depend on the root cause of the heavy bleeding.
One of the major concerns with regard to heavy bleeding is the loss of iron which could result in anemia. The body’s red blood cells need iron to provide oxygen. Women who experience a prolonged issue with heavy bleeding should ask that their doctor check their iron levels and/or test to identify the source of the problem.
Amenorrhea, or missed periods
A woman’s average menstrual cycle is about 28 days long with the average period lasting from three to five days. Missing or skipping a period, or amenorrhea, can vary depending on the woman’s age. If a woman in her late 40s to early 50s experiences less frequent periods, it could be a sign of menopause. Typically, if a woman falls within this age range and doesn’t have a period for 60 consecutive months, she is likely experiencing menopause.
If women in their 20s and 30s experience several missed periods, there is a high chance that they have become pregnant, whether or not protection was used during sex. Other less common reasons why women miss their periods include:
- Intense exercise routine
- Eating disorders
- Uterine diseases
Sometimes women may experience bleeding or spotting in between their periods that is sometimes referred to as intermenstrual bleeding. The reasons for this can range from an infection or hormonal imbalance to a more serious issue such as cancer, so it’s important that women see a doctor to properly diagnose the problem.
Dysmenorrhea (severe cramping) & pain during periods
There can be a fair amount of discomfort, cramping and pain during a woman’s period. Extreme or debilitating cramping is referred to as dysmenorrhea and is often accompanied by other symptoms, including:
- Aching and pain in the abdomen
- Upset stomach
- Pain in the lower back or hips.
To relieve menstrual cramps, it is advised that women rest, avoid caffeine and foods with high levels of sodium, and use a heating pad to relieve some of the abdominal pressure of the uterus contracting to shed it’s lining. Over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can also relieve pain and cramping.
Pain during a period can also be a sign of something more serious such as fibroids or endometriosis. Diagnosing such diseases, which require prompt treatment, involves a pelvic exam or an ultrasound.