What Your Cycle Says About Your Health

woman pointing to a calendarMany women dread their monthly “visitor” and all its excess baggage—cramping, pain and those inconvenient (and perhaps embarrassing) trips to the restroom. The good news is that your menstrual cycle can signify an underlying health issue before it becomes too serious. Here are a few conditions to watch out for.  

Missed periods

A missed period often begs the question, “Am I pregnant?” It’s quite possible. In fact, pregnancy is the most common reason for missed periods. But there are other medical conditions that cause a woman’s menstrual cycle to stop.

If you’ve missed three or more periods, you could be experiencing secondary amenorrhea. There are many possible causes, including a hormonal imbalance, excessive exercise, low body weight, stress or thyroid problems. Women can also miss periods after taking certain medications, including antidepressants and cancer-fighting drugs. If you haven’t had a period in more than three months, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to identify the reason.

Heavy flow

Heavy periods, medically termed “menorrhagia,” are identified as losing more than 80 milliliters of blood during a menstrual cycle. Many women are surprised to learn that the average amount of blood lost during a five- to seven-day cycle is only about 60 milliliters (or 2.7 ounces). To put this into perspective, a regular-sized tampon or pad would need to be replaced every four hours. If your menstrual flow is unusually heavy, you could be changing them every two hours or less. Here are some possible causes of heavy menstrual flow:

Fibroids and polyps: When the uterus doesn’t contract properly, a fibroid or polyp could be the cause, leading to heavy, prolonged bleeding. These can be surgically removed, often laparoscopically through a tiny incision.  

Hormone imbalance: When the balance of estrogen and progesterone are out of whack, it can lead to a thickening of the uterine lining, which is then shed through heavy menstrual flow. This type of imbalance can be found through a simple blood test.

Gynecological cancer: While uterine or cervical cancer can cause excessive bleeding, it’s rarely the cause of heavy flow. Your doctor may perform a pelvic exam followed by a biopsy if this diagnosis is a possibility.It’s important to note that heavy blood flow can lead to anemia, making you feel weak and tired during your cycle. Once you treat the cause of the heavy bleeding, the symptoms of anemia will also go away.  

Severe pain

If your menstrual cramps have you doubled over in pain and unable to carry on with your daily activities, it could be a medical emergency, like an ectopic (tubal) pregnancy. Less urgent causes of pain could be an ovarian cyst or pelvic inflammatory disease. 

Many of the conditions mentioned above can be treated with medication, surgery or even changes in diet. See your doctor if you’re concerned about any symptoms or changes in your menstrual cycle.

Speak with your primary care physician, or gynecologist, about any inconsistencies in your cycle. If you do not have a primary care physician or gynecologist, search for a physician near you or call 1-800-BAYCARE (1-800-229-2273).