Irregular bleeding can mean many things. It could be that you’ve started bleeding earlier or later than usual. You could be experiencing unusually light bleeding or a heavier than normal flow. Or it can mean the absence of your period (amenorrhea) or having two periods in one month (metrorrhagia).
If you’ve only just started your period and you’re irregular, relax. It’s normal to be irregular for the first few years. Your ovulation hasn’t regulated itself properly yet. As it does, your period will become more predictable. Most women will have had an irregular period at least once or twice in their lifetime.
It’s common for stress to take a toll on your period. You might have started at a new school or job. You might have problems with your love life or have had a family argument. Or you might even be excited over a holiday, wedding or house move. Stress produces a hormone called cortisol. Too much of it in your bloodstream can interfere with how much oestrogen and progesterone hormones your body produces. And this can interfere with your period cycle.
Bleeding twice or more in a month is thought to be due to a hormone imbalance. Frequent or irregular periods can also be the sign of a medical problem or an infection, and too much bleeding can result in anaemia, an iron deficiency. Visit your doctor to find out if you need treatment.
Missing a period, or even periods, can be concerning. One of the first signs of pregnancy is missing a period, so if you’re sexually active it’s wise to check this isn’t the case by taking a pregnancy test or seeing a doctor.
The many reasons for missing a period are similar to possible causes of irregular periods: stress, sudden weight loss, being overweight, doing too much exercise, contraceptives or the menopause.
Your periods stopping can sometimes be the result of a medical condition, such as PCOS, heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, an overactive thyroid or premature menopause. You should make an appointment with your GP if you’ve missed more than 3 periods in a row, and you’ve checked that you are not pregnant.
When your body goes through childbirth, it experiences a change in hormone levels. And when your hormone levels are upset, it’s normal to experience absence of menstruation. Also, breastfeeding can cause periods to stop completely and they might not resume until you have stopped. This doesn’t mean you’re not ovulating though. You’re still able to get pregnant, so you should use condoms for birth control (the contraceptive pill isn’t recommended for women who have just given birth). When your period starts again, it might be lighter and shorter, or longer and heavier than it was before. This is common in new mothers.
Don’t be alarmed about irregular periods. Your period cycle should go back to normal on its own or with a few simple lifestyle changes. But if you have irregular periods for longer than three months, consult a doctor. It’s a good idea to keep track of the length and frequency of your periods, you can use the Bodyform period tracker for this. If you’re worried about a period taking you by surprise, always have a pad or two with you, just in case.