I’ve never had regular periods, but it’s gotten worse recently. I had the birth control implant and it seemed like I always had my period. It would be a week off, then two weeks of menstruation, ad infinitum. Now that I’m off it, I get my period every five months give or take. I also have dysmenorrhea (painful menstruation), and when I do get my period, it feels like it drains me (no pun intended) and it’s worse every time. What could cause this and what can I do to try and make it easier or more regular?
Unpredictable, painful periods are the pits! Luckily with some medical attention, they can be a thing of the past.
Infrequent periods are most often due to anovulation—a change in your hormones that prevents your ovaries from ovulating or releasing an egg each month. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is the most common cause of anovulation in women between the ages of 18 and 45 years old. Others include thyroid disorders, low female hormones resulting from stress, extreme exercise or eating disorders, and of course, don’t forget pregnancy. Less likely causes of irregular periods include side effects of prescription medication, abnormalities of the uterus or ovaries, or benign brain tumors.
Painful periods are also very common. The guilty culprit is often a chemical your body produces called a prostaglandin. These evil-doers cause your uterus, which is made of muscle, to contract. This is the same substance that triggers uterine contractions during labor in pregnancy! That would explain the pain, right? Prostaglandins are also responsible for the nausea, diarrhea and back pain that may accompany your period.
If your cycles interfere with school, work, sports, or even socializing with friends, it’s time to see your gynecologist! To prepare, keep a diary of your symptoms and a menstrual calendar. At your visit, expect your doctor to take a detailed history including some pretty personal questions and perform a complete physical exam. Depending on your age, this may include a pelvic exam. Additionally, blood work or even a vaginal probe ultrasound may be recommended.
Now for the fix. First, pursue a healthful lifestyle. A balanced diet low in caffeine and added sugar, as well as a moderate exercise program will improve your problem periods. Next, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Ibuprofen or Naproxen started at the first hint of your cycle will help to lessen your pain. If these changes don’t cut it, your doctor may recommend hormone therapy in the form of a birth control pill, patch, or vaginal ring to regulate your cycle. The progesterone IUD is another terrific option. And a bonus, these treatments not only help your periods, they provide contraception for those in need.
There is no reason to suffer through your “time of the month.” It should be just as fabulous as any other week! Take charge of your cycle. See your health care provider ASAP to put your periods in check!
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