Irregular Menstruation: What You Need to Know
May 1, 2013
Many women experience some form of irregular menstruation. While
irregular menstruation is usually a minor problem with a simple
solution, it’s important to know exactly what it is and when you should
see a doctor.
What is irregular menstruation?
Menorrhagia, or irregular bleeding, is defined as an increased amount or increased duration of a woman’s period. With 5 days as the average duration, a period lasting more than 7-10 days is irregular. The average menstrual cycle occurs every 21 to 35 days. A major change in this cycle, with periods happening more frequently than every 21 days, or less frequently than every 35, would also be considered irregular.
Dr. Antonio V. Sison, MD, FACOG , (pictured left), notes that women generally fall into three age-related groups with regard to menstruation. In young women ages 13 to 25, hormones are often the cause of irregular bleeding. Even though the cause is most likely not serious, it’s important to see a doctor to rule out other more serious causes. When the problem is hormonal, often medication, such as birth control pills or injections, is used to treat it.
Hormonal issues are also a common cause of irregular menstruation in women ages 25 to 45, as are fibroid tumors, says Dr. Sison, who is a board certified OB/GYN. A fibroid tumor is a benign growth in the uterus, and may present with heavy or prolonged bleeding. An exam and an ultrasound by a doctor can diagnose fibroids. Finally, cancer of the uterus, or endometrial cancer, is a less likely but possible cause of bleeding. This condition can also be diagnosed or ruled out by a doctor.
For women 45 and over, the most common cause of irregular bleeding is the start of menopause. As the reproductive organs start to slow and shut down, periods may become irregular before stopping all together. Cancer is, again, a cause that needs to be ruled out by a doctor.
So when should you see your doctor?
Dr. Sison advises that it’s important to remember that minor changes, such as a cycle change from 28 to 26 days or a period that is slightly longer one month and back to normal the next, are not cause for alarm. A doctor should be consulted if the symptoms of irregular bleeding have occurred for several months in a row. Also, if a young woman has not had her first period by the age of 16, she should see a doctor. For older women, a doctor should be consulted if bleeding occurs after menopause. You should see a doctor if you believe you are pregnant.
To find an OB/GYN affiliated with Princeton HealthCare System, please call 1.800.FINDADR (1.800.346.3237) or visit our physician directory