Fertility and Irregular Periods
There's Comfort in Regularity
We talk about the proverbial pain in the side, well, let's face it Ladies, menstruation can accomplish that for a few days every month. And, we do our best to deal with it and live with it. Although monthly periods can be a "pain", things become decidedly worse if they are irregular. There is a certain comfort in regularity - knowing that you can expect your period to arrive on time, every time. It is that knowledge that makes it a lot easier to plan a pregnancy.
When Things Don't Happen Regularly
However, if your periods are not regular, planning anything is tough. Irregular periods, called oligomenorrhea, are quite common and though they are usually nothing serious, there are times when they can signal a problem. Regular periods are peculiar to the woman. The idea that a regular menstrual cycle is every 28 days is not necessarily the way it is with all women. The spread is actually from 20 days to 35 days. The best way to know if your periods are regular is to chart them. If they come roughly the same number of days apart each month, then you could consider yourself to be regular. Normally a menstrual period lasts about five days - but it is normal for a period to last anywhere from three to seven days. So you see, normal is relative.
Oligomenorrhea - Irregular Periods
Approximately 30% of women in their reproductive years experience irregular periods. Oligomenorrhea is any type of bleeding that is abnormal when compared to your usual menstrual cycle. This includes being late for your period, having an early period, or bleeding between periods. The condition can also appear as menorrhagia, which is particularly heavy bleeding, or it may be extremely light - more like spotting than bleeding. Irregular periods also appear in the form of a missed period, periods that are continuous and seem to always be there, and periods that happen twice during a cycle.
The Common Causes of Irregular Periods
The most common cause of irregular periods is hormones gone astray or hormonal signals that are out of sync. There are two major hormones necessary for a woman to have menses; estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are stored in the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries and work together to cause ovulation and if there is no pregnancy, then menses occurs. In order to trigger ovulation and menstruation, these hormones need to communicate. Sometimes the signals get crossed or aren't sent at all, causing a missed period. The solution is in knowing what causes the signals to become skewed.
There are several different reasons for hormone levels to change and periods to be missed. The first and most obvious is pregnancy. When pregnancy occurs, hormone levels dramatically change causing all sorts of pregnancy symptoms. One symptom is the cessation of menses. Another reason hormones go out of whack is stress. Yes, we know, "everything is caused by stress". Well, not everything, but certainly if you are stressed, fatigued, worried about things, or anxious for some reason, it can make your hormones unbalanced and you'll miss a period.
Diet, Exercise and Birth Control Factors
Diet is a huge factor. Extreme weight loss or conversely, extreme weight gain, can also affect your hormones. Anorexic or bulimic women often have no period at all. Exercise is another culprit. In a bid to have body beautiful, women over train and diet down to a body fat percentage that is too low. The result - oligomenorrhea. Hormonal birth control is certainly a factor. It takes a while for the body to adjust to the hormonal manipulation of birth control pills, so you may miss a period during the process. IUDs, another form of birth control, can cause irregular periods as well. There is menarche, when a girl begins menstruation it can take a while for things to get going regularly, and at the other end of the spectrum, there's menopause when hormones hail their last hurrah.
Additional factors to consider are serious conditions that affect women and play havoc with hormones and fertility. Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) manifests as cysts on the ovaries that interfere with regular ovulation and ultimately regular periods. Inflammatory bowel disease has also been linked to missed periods.