When it comes to your period, there’s a range of normal. Some periods only last a couple of days. Others last up to a week. While every 28 days is the average, your periods may be anywhere between 21 and 35 days apart.
However, if you’re suddenly going longer between periods, missing periods altogether, or bleeding in between, that isn’t always normal. In addition to pregnancy, a variety of factors can cause changes in your monthly cycle. Find out some of the most common causes and when you should visit your OB GYN.
In some cases, conditions that result in an imbalance in hormones—like polycystic ovary syndrome or thyroid problems—cause irregular periods. Conditions such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis, or pelvic infections are also common. However, many other conditions cause changes to your period too.
The best way to rule out a medical concern is to schedule a visit with your OB GYN. Once you know the cause, then your doctor can recommend treatment.
Birth control and medications
Some medications affect your cycle. For example, birth control pills or intrauterine devices (IUDs) can change your period. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says other medications can also lead to irregular periods, including those that treat epilepsy or mental health disorders.
If notice changes to your period after starting a new medication, talk to your doctor. In some cases, you can continue your medication safely. However, if heavy or irregular bleeding is affecting your quality of life, your doctor may offer other options.
If you’re entering midlife, perimenopause is a common cause of irregular periods. Perimenopause is the time of transition leading up to menopause—the end of your monthly period. During this time, your estrogen levels decline, creating a variety of symptoms.
However, even in this stage of life, changes or missed periods can have other causes too. If you think you may be entering perimenopause, it’s a good time to visit your OB GYN and rule out any other concerns.
After a baby
Another common time for irregular or missed periods is after having a baby. The normal return of your period after birth varies greatly. Once your period returns, it may take a few months for your monthly cycle to get back to a normal routine.
If you choose to breastfeed—especially consistently—it’s normal to go without a period for several months. In general, the La Leche League says most breastfeeding moms see their periods return between 9 to 18 months.
Your lifestyle choices may affect your period as well. For example, the Office on Women’s Health says studies show long-term stress can result in irregular periods. Women who participate in strenuous exercise may also notice cycle changes. Or an abrupt change to a strict diet might cause issues.
While some small variations in your cycle are normal, a sudden change in your period is often a sign of an overall change in your health. So, if you’re having changes in your cycle or if you go more than three months without a period, call your OB GYN. He or she can help you get to the root of your irregular periods.