Irregular Periods

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It’s sometimes hard to know when you should visit a doctor about your period. Here we talk about what an ‘irregular’ period is and when and how to speak to your doctor about it.

What is an ‘irregular’ period?

A woman’s period changes after puberty and usually becomes more regular. As such there are different criteria depending on the number of years since a women’s first period. It isn’t unusual for your period to be more irregular as a teenager but then become regular as an adult.

  • In the first year after your first period – it’s normal to have irregular periods
  • Between 1 – 3 years after your first period – a cycle less than 21 days or greater than 45 days is irregular
  • Greater than 3 years after your first period – a cycle less than 21 days or more than 35 days or having less than 8 cycles per year is considered irregular
  • A cycle longer than 90 days is considered irregular

What causes irregular periods?

There are a number of different causes of irregular periods including lifestyle changes, diet changes and any medication you may be taking. Often it isn’t anything to worry about but it’s worth discussing with your doctor to make sure everything is OK.

Some possible causes of irregular periods:

  • PCOS – a hormonal condition that is common in women of reproductive age
  • Extreme weight loss or weight gain
  • Excessive exercise or stress
  • Some types of hormonal contraception – such as the contraceptive pill or intrauterine system (IUS)
  • Certain medical conditions – such as a problem with the thyroid
  • The start of the menopause (usually between the ages of 45 and 55)
  • Early pregnancy – a pregnancy test will rule this out

When to see your GP

It’s worth seeing a GP if:

  • your periods suddenly become irregular and you’re under 45
  • you have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days
  • your periods last longer than 7 days
  • there’s a big difference between your shortest and longest menstrual cycle
  • you have irregular periods and you’re struggling to get pregnant
  • you have irregular periods and you aren’t ovulating
  • you also experience other symptoms such as pain and heavy bleeding
  • you have symptoms commonly associated with PCOS – acne, weight gain, hair in unwanted places 

There might not be anything wrong, but it’s a good idea to get checked out to see what the cause might be. You might be referred to a specialist called a gynaecologist if you need any tests or treatment.

How to talk to your GP about irregular periods

It can be worrying when you’re not sure what is going on with your body, especially if you’ve been struggling to conceive. It’s important to speak to a medical professional, usually your GP.

We’ve included some tips below that may make it easier.

  • Understand if your period is irregular. An irregular period is a cycle less than 21 days or more than 35 days, having less than 8 cycles per year or having a cycle longer than 90 days 
  • Track your period. It may aid the discussion if you have a note of when your periods come and go or use a period tracking app. 
  • Don’t wait to get help. If you’re having an irregular period and you’re not sure why then discussing it with a healthcare professional is a good idea. You should never feel embarrassed when talking about periods with your GP – they really do see it all. You deserve to get all the help that you need and earlier treatment can help in the long run.
  • Prepare for your appointment. Unfortunately, GP appointments in the UK are short. Preparing in advance for the conversation is a good idea. Take your period diary with you and write down any symptoms you’ve been experiencing that you think may be related. If you have specific questions you want to ask, write them down so you don’t forget on the day.
  • Ask questions during the appointment. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There are no ‘silly’ questions and it is better to share these with your doctor so they have the chance to address them.
  • Cover the difficult things. If you have any associated symptoms make sure you let your GP know. It’s important to let your GP know so that they can arrange the right support.
  • Ask for another appointment if needed. Appointments with your GP can feel too short. If this is the case, book a follow up straight after. Your GP wants to help, and wants to have the time to hear about your symptoms. It is important you leave your appointments feeling more confident and in the know.

We hope this helps you to make a start on getting the support you need.

Any general advice given by our care team or posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Béa Fertility, the trading name for StepOne Fertility Ltd. makes no representations or warranties and expressly disclaims any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app.