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What your period may be telling you about your overall health

We asked the experts.

ONCE A MONTH for more than a decade, we have been visited by mother nature. 

shutterstock_1132797323 Shutterstock / Anna Schlosser Shutterstock / Anna Schlosser / Anna Schlosser

Yes, most of us have experienced well over 150 periods in our lives so you’d imagine we’d be well used to the formalities. 

However, oftentimes we can experience irregularities. 

Whether our cycle is off, we experience unusual pains or the bleeding isn’t what it normally is, these can all be clues to other health issues.

So, we reached out to Dublin Well Woman Centre’s Medical Director, Dr Shirley McQuade, to hear what health signs we could be getting from our periods and what we should do about them.  

Periods lasting longer than usual

Period length varies from one person to the next. Anywhere from two to five days is average but some women naturally have longer periods than that. As women get older, they may last even longer.

Periods not lasting as long as usual

The first time your period is much shorter, it is best to get a pregnancy test – just in case! But short, regular cycles can be normal and no investigations are needed.

shutterstock_1135607849 Shutterstock / July Prokopiv Shutterstock / July Prokopiv / July Prokopiv

Extreme period cramps

Some women will have severe periods right from when they start menstruating. It is very unlikely that there is any serious pathology and it usually is managed by taking a contraceptive pill. However, if the contraceptive pill doesn’t control symptoms then there may be a problem – the most common being endometriosis.

It could also be due to the entrance to the womb being a little bit tighter than usual. Then a visit to your GP or women’s health clinic is advised to discuss investigation and treatment.

Worsening acne, bloating or breast pain during your period

Hormone patterns change throughout a woman’s lifetime. PMS tends to get worse as women get older. They develop a sensitivity to the normal hormonal peaks and troughs that is the menstrual cycle. My initial advice is to do a Lifestyle Audit.

So, look at diet, exercise, and trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle by eating regularly, getting plenty of sleep and doing some exercise.

Minimise stress where you can too and take some time out during the week just for you.

Bloating and painful breasts are likely due to fluid retention. Starflower oil or evening primrose oil and vitamin B6 are all useful remedies which you can buy in a health food store. Take every day for three months and hopefully, you should see a benefit.

shutterstock_1312208675 Shutterstock / aksenova_sveta Shutterstock / aksenova_sveta / aksenova_sveta

Excessive bleeding

There are several reasons for heavy bleeding – both structural and hormonal.

A pelvic ultrasound scan will check for fibroids which are a common cause of heavy bleeding in older women. Blood tests can check for hormonal causes and are also useful to check for anaemia.

Heavy periods over a number of months can cause low iron levels, which is also something to consider. 

Period cramping without bleeding

Any inflammation of the cervix can cause period-like cramps.

It is worthwhile paying a visit to a doctor to have them check the cervix, take swab tests for infection and a smear test if one is due.

shutterstock_1069512443 Shutterstock / Shutterstock / /

Near-black period bleeding

Women are often concerned about the colour of the menstrual blood.

Bright red is seen when the flow is brisk and the lining of the womb is shedding quickly. Darker bleeding means a slower flow and the blood has altered by the time it comes to the outside.

It is not a sign of any pathology.

Bleeding in between periods may be a sign of a problem and should be discussed with your doctor.

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