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Irregular Cycles: What’s Normal vs What’s Concerning

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Some ladies have noticed that their menstrual cycle has been irregular and their body has felt a little off since the beginning of the pandemic. In this blog post, we’ll be going over what’s normal and what’s potentially concerning, along with the potential causes of irregular menstrual cycles.

Potential Causes of Irregular Menstrual Cycles

A typical interim between menstrual cycles is 24-35 days between the beginning of one cycle to the beginning of the next cycle, with the average cycle lasting 28 days. Most women will bleed for five, six or seven days each month. Some patients have the exact same interval every month but that interval can vary for others. 

There are five main causes of irregular cycles:

       ●    Surgery – All types of surgery can impact ovulation, as well as, the menstrual cycle.

       ●    Stress – Hormones caused by stress can delay ovulation and therefore delay the menstrual cycle.

       ●    Illness – Acute illnesses could interfere with ovulation and create irregularities in the menstrual cycle.

       ●    Medications – Particular medications can impact ovulation and therefore impact the menstrual cycle.

       ●    Weight Change – Rapid weight loss or gain can prevent ovulation, which impacts the interval between cycles.

Impact of COVID-19

The pandemic has caused additional stress for lots of patients and is therefore the probable cause for lots of patients who are newly experiencing irregular menstrual cycles. When patients are experiencing emotional stress, it causes their cortisol (stress hormone) levels to rise. Elevated cortisol levels can prevent ovulation and therefore impact the menstrual cycle.

About 1 in 4 women are experiencing menstrual irregularities due to the stress caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients who are on some type of hormonal contraceptives are less likely to experience irregular menstrual cycles. This is because the medication regulates the menstrual cycle instead of their natural hormone fluctuations.

If a patient’s menstrual cycle is a few days early or late, it’s not usually a cause for concern. Furthermore, even if the menstrual cycle is a full week late or skipped all together, this is rarely a sign of something concerning.

However, if a patient is fertile as well as sexually active and their period is late, they should take a pregnancy test as a precaution. This applies even if they are using protection, as no form of contraception is 100% effective.

Potential Concerns

Patients who are experiencing consistently irregular cycles should talk to their health care provider about why this may be happening.

Consistent patterns to look out for:

       ●    Menstrual cycles less than 24 days apart

       ●    Menstrual cycles that last more than one calendar week (7 days)

       ●    Heavy bleeding that requires a new pad or tampon every hour

       ●    For patients not on hormonal medication, having bleeding between menstrual cycles

       ●    For patients not on hormonal medication, going two months between menstrual cycles

Patients who bleed too much or too often, they develop anemia (low blood count.) This can result in atypical fatigue and even fainting.

Patients should also get their thyroid checked if they’ve noticed any changes to their menstrual cycle. Polycystic ovarian syndrome and thyroid disorders are the most common medical conditions that disrupt the menstrual cycle.

If needed, contraceptive medications can help regulate the menstrual cycle. If you’re concerned about your irregular menstrual cycle, give our office a call at (530) 345-0064, Ext 281 and we will be happy to help figure out what’s right for you.

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