Normal and Abnormal Period Symptoms

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Your period can offer important information about your health. But many people don’t know what’s normal and what’s not, or they may believe common myths about menstruation. For one: A period isn’t always a monthly occurrence. Most doctors use a 28-day cycle as standard, but anywhere from 21-35 days is usually considered in normal range. Read on for more surprising facts about your period.

Skipped Periods Deserve a Second Look

A normal menstrual cycle can range from 21-35 days, but the key is that whatever length your cycle takes, it should be fairly regular. More than about 2-3 days’ variation is worth mentioning to your doctor. And if it’s been months since you needed a pad or tampon, take notice!

Pregnancy is a major reason for periods to go on hold, of course. Other conditions can mess with menstruation, too, though. PCOS, for example, often leads to infrequent ovulation. The hormone imbalance and lack of ovulation add up to irregular, difficult-to-predict periods.

Perimenopause, extreme weight loss or gain, or serious stress can also make you skip a period. Your doctor can help determine if there’s a medical condition that needs to be treated.

Periods Shouldn’t Be That Painful

Cramps are a common premenstrual symptom, and they’re usually normal. Cramps causing debilitating pain or nausea, or that don’t go away with over-the-counter pain medication, can be a sign that something’s wrong. Endometriosis is a common condition affecting over 10% of women. It can be extremely painful, interfere with your ability to get through your day, or make it harder to get pregnant.

There isn’t always a lot of open discussion about periods. Painful, doubled-over cramps are one of the few symptoms you’re likely to see in the media, so it can make it seem like serious pain is normal. There may be treatments to help you have a less painful period.

Bleeding: What’s Normal and What’s Not

Most people with periods talk about “light flow” and “heavy flow” days, but what does that even mean?

During a normal period, you lose about 5-80 mL of blood. Again, like cycle length, having a fairly steady experience cycle to cycle is more important than being on the low or high end of normal range.

Okay, I hear you say, but how am I supposed to estimate how many mL of blood is going down the drain? Looking at your pad, tampon, or menstrual cup can help you gauge your flow.

A menstrual cup is easiest, since you insert a flexible cup into your vagina. You can easily get a very accurate measure of how much liquid the cup will hold, and multiply by as many times as you change the cup per day.

A regular, daytime pad will get soaked with about 5 mL of fluid. An overnight can probably hold about 10-15 mL.

A light tampon can soak up about 3 mL, while a super tampon can probably take about 10-12 mL.

So, if you’re using two pads or tampons per day, you might be losing around 6-10 mL. If you’re soaking a pad or tampon every hour or two, you likely have a heavier flow than is typical. A very heavy flow can also be a sign of uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or other blood or uterine issues that a doctor should check out.

Menstrual Mood Issues

A lot of people experience irritability as part of PMS, or premenstrual symptom. PMDD, or premenstrual dysphoric disorder, is a much more severe version of PMS. With PMDD, irritability, sadness or hopelessness, or extreme mood swings can damage your professional or personal relationships.

Some antidepressants or even birth control pills can manage symptoms or regulate your cycle in such a way that you feel more in control of your mood. If your period interferes with your normal routine, that’s a sure sign that it’s worth reaching out for help.

Jessica Sillers
Jessica Sillers is a parenting and finance writer whose work has been featured in Pregnancy & Newborn, Headspace, and more. As a new mom herself, she’s passionate about helping other parents find the community and support they need. When she’s not writing, she loves spending time with her family, reading, and hiking.

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