Irregular Periods: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

    Updated 20 September 2019 |
    Published 13 August 2019
    Fact Checked
    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK
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    Every woman is likely to experience an irregular period at some point in her life. It could be because of birth control, stress, or numerous other causes. Unfortunately, women can’t naturally control when their periods come, but you can track its patterns. Learn about what makes periods irregular and how you can try to regulate them.

    What periods are considered irregular?

    Women typically get their periods once every 28 days or so. For some women, this happens like clockwork, but others have cycles that are much less predictable.

    Your periods are most likely irregular if:

    • The number of days between your periods starts to change
    • The amount of blood you lose is more or less than usual
    • The duration of your periods varies

    What can cause an irregular menstrual cycle?

    Most of the time, an irregular period is caused by an imbalance of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone. This is the primary reason why girls entering puberty or women approaching menopause have irregular periods. Some causes of an irregular menstrual cycle can include:

    • Using an IUD — An IUD can make your periods irregular.
    • Changing birth control pills — If you switched from one type of pill to another with different levels of estrogen and/or progesterone, you could experience irregular periods until your body gets used to the new hormone levels.
    • Too much exercise — Too much physical activity can potentially throw off your period’s timing and sometimes stop it altogether.
    • Polycystic ovary syndrome — This is a hormonal disorder that indicates you have high amounts of male hormones. This can cause problems with your ovaries, resulting in missed periods or other symptoms including facial hair growth and thinning hair.
    • Pregnancy or breastfeeding — Your period stops altogether during pregnancy, but breastfeeding can also have an effect on your cycle. The hormone that is responsible for breast milk production can interfere with the hormones that control your periods. 
    • Stress — Ongoing stress can cause your period to come more infrequently, since stress affects the part of your brain responsible for keeping hormone levels balanced.
    • Thyroid disease — Diseases of the thyroid can cause your body to make either too much or too little of necessary hormones. Longer periods with heavy bleeding and more cramps can be a sign of hypothyroidism, when the thyroid is underactive. With hyperthyroidism, when the thyroid is overactive, periods can be shorter or lighter.

    What health problems can irregular periods indicate?

    Two of the health problems mentioned above, thyroid disease and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), can cause irregular periods.

    Another health problem that can cause irregular periods is uterine fibroids, which are benign lumps that grow on the uterus. Some of the symptoms of this illness are heavy periods, cramping, painful sex, and an urge to urinate.

    How can I regulate my menstrual cycle?

    You can try to regulate your menstrual cycle with some at-home remedies.

    First, use the Flo app to track your periods and symptoms each month. Even if your period is irregular, you may be able to detect some symptom patterns and be better prepared.

    Some other suggestions include:

    • Practice yoga. Yoga can help relieve stress. You don’t have to be an expert to do it successfully. Check out some beginner poses and concentrate on breathing and relaxing to help you de-stress. Feeling less stressed overall can help make your period’s arrival more predictable.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, you may experience heavier periods. If you’re severely underweight, you may experience irregular menstruation as well. It’s important to eat a balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Exercise regularly, but don’t overdo it. Exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight, which in turn can help make your periods more regular. But remember, too much exercise can have an adverse effect and make your periods more irregular. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, three times a week.
    • Ginger — There’s some evidence to suggest that daily ginger supplements may help reduce the amount of blood lost during periods. It may also help relieve PMS symptoms.

    When to see a doctor

    Because hormone levels are so sensitive and can change frequently, you’re likely to experience irregular periods at some point in your lifetime. With that said, there are some times when you should seek medical assistance. Call your doctor if:

    • You miss three or more periods a year
    • Your period has always been regular and suddenly becomes irregular
    • You have a period more than once every 21 days
    • You don’t get your period for 35 days
    • Your periods are unusually heavy or painful
    • Your period lasts longer than 7 days

    If you’ve had regular periods and the pattern suddenly changes, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor. They can give you a physical exam and rule out any potential problems. 

    History of updates

    Current version (20 September 2019)

    Reviewed by Dr. Anna Klepchukova, Intensive care medicine specialist, chief medical officer, Flo Health Inc., UK

    Published (13 August 2019)

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