5 Reasons for Irregular Periods

It's normal for your period to be lighter, heavier, earlier, or later than usual, especially if you're adolescent or perimenopausal. Most women have periods every 24 to 34 days, lasting for three to seven days.  A small percentage of women have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days, and this might be entirely normal for them. But, if your menstrual cycle is irregular more than occasionally, it could be a sign of something serious. Here, five things that could be throwing your period out of whack.

  1. Pregnancy. Most women know if they miss their period they might be pregnant but some women continue to have "periods" during pregnancy.  They might experience spotting or a lighter than usual period, miss a cycle, or even have what they consider a normal period during pregnancy. Bleeding during pregnancy should always be checked out by a physician.  If pregnancy is a possibility and your period is acting abnormal, take a pregnancy test to be sure.
  2. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). About 10 percent of women have PCOS, a health problem that can affect the menstrual cycle, ability to have children, hormones, heart, blood vessels, and appearance.
  3. Women with PCOS typically have high levels of androgens (male hormones) with irregular or missed periods. In women with PCOS, the ovary doesn't produce all of the hormones needed for ovulation and regular menstruation. 
  4. Thyroid Disease. The thyroid is a small gland found at the base of your neck, just below your Adam's apple. The thyroid produces two main hormones called T3 and T4, which control the rate of many activities in your body including heart rate and metabolism.  Women with too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) can have irregular, missed, excessively heavy, or unusually light periods.
  5. Anorexia. Women who don't eat enough or have enough body fat can stop normal hormone production that causes ovulation and menstruation.  Anorexia is an eating disorder, most common in teenagers and young women (but can affect men and older women too).  Too much exercise (where not enough calories are consumed to offset those burned) can also cause irregular cycles. 
  6. Stress. Prolonged or extreme stress, fatigue, anxiety and depression have been linked to irregular periods.  It's the body/mind connection. Stress hormones (cortisol) have an impact on the adrenal glands, which regulate sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone).  Studies also show an increase in other disease processes (including cardiac disease) with prolonged exposure to cortisol.

What should you do if your period is irregular more often than not?  Take a pregnancy test if there's any possibility it could be positive.  Keep track of your periods on paper.  Pay attention to any other symptoms you might be experiencing, and see your physician.