Missing out on your periods or irregular periods once in a while is common. However, the problem arises when irregular periods become every month’s story. The irregularity can be an amalgamation of a host of factors. Ignoring the same for long will only complicate things further. For women of reproductive age, the problem can give rise to deleterious consequences, including difficulties in conceiving. In this article, we will discuss some of the common triggers that result in irregular periods and when to seek medical help.
What causes Irregular Periods?
The hormonal balance plays a significant role in the proper functioning of the vital organs of the body. More than often, irregular periods are found to be a manifestation of hormonal imbalance. Some of the conditions that trigger the hormonal imbalance include
PCOS is a common medical condition that affects women of reproductive age. PCOS is characterized by the formation of cysts in the ovary (one or both) that affects the ovulation process. In PCOS, there is an increased production of Androgen, especially Testosterone that can cause irregular periods, hair fall, facial hair, weight gain etc.
Time and again doctors and health professionals emphasize the importance of leading a stress-free life. Research suggests stress and anxiety often interfere with the functioning of the Hypothalamus. As a result, the pituitary glands that control and regulate the activities of the ovaries, adrenal glands, and thyroid glands may be affected. These can also trigger a hormonal imbalance giving rise to menstrual problems such as Irregular periods. In the case of extreme stress, there may be a short-term cessation of periods (Secondary Amenorrhea).
The hormonal imbalance and irregular periods can also be an outcome of other medical conditions such as endometriosis, cancer affecting the reproductive organs, fibroids, obesity, diabetes, hyperprolactinemia (characterized by an elevated level of prolactin) or even thyroid disorders.
Women who indulge in strict dieting can also suffer from irregular periods. Strict dieting (especially the ones that are without proper nutritional guidance) can rob the body of the essential nutrients disrupting the hormonal balance.
Irregular periods are normal in women who are nearing their menopause.
When to seek medical assistance?
Irregular periods can be indicative of a severe health problem. Consult a gynaecologist
If your regular cycles get delayed by more than 7 days.
There is spotting or bleeding in between the periods.
Your periods last for more than ten days or less than two days.
There is excruciating pain during periods.
The gap between two successive menstrual cycles is more than 35 days or less than 21 days.
Your periods are heavy and unmanageable, affecting your daily routine.
Fibroids are small lumps that develop in the muscle layers of the uterus. They are benign which means they will not become cancerous. They are relatively common. 30% of women below the age of 35 years and 20-80% women in the menopausal age bracket are affected by fibroids. They usually appear during the child-bearing years because that is when oestrogen levels peak.
Is surgery necessary?
Whether you need surgery depends on the symptoms. Sometimes the indicators of fibroids are insignificant and do not cause much discomfort. But you might require surgery if the symptoms include-
• Profuse bleeding during periods
• Bleeding even when you are not menstruating
• Intense pain in the lower back or in your abdomen.
• Inability to urinate
Another reason why you might need surgery is certain kinds of fibroids reduce fertility. If you are trying to conceive and you have fibroids, you may find it difficult to become pregnant. And these fibroids also raise risks of miscarriage and labour complications. Moreover, the only remedy in such cases is surgery.
Some Surgery Options-
Your doctor may recommend any of the following procedures-
• Myolysis - The surgeon stops the blood supply to the fibroids during this simple procedure. Without blood and oxygen, they begin to shrivel up and die.
• Endometrial Ablation - This surgery is recommended by doctors when a woman’s period lasts for longer than eight days and is accompanied by such heavy bleeding both during and between periods that it leads to anaemia. During this surgery, the doctor surgically removes the endometrial lining. This is a non-reversible procedure and women cannot conceive after undergoing it. That is why the pros and cons should be weighed carefully before making a decision.
• Myomectomy - This surgery is ideal for women who do not want to eliminate the possibility of conceiving. This surgery does not lead to sterilization. Through either open surgery or laparoscopy, the doctor simply removes the fibroids and leaves the uterus unharmed.
When do you not need Surgery?
You do not need surgery if-
• Your symptoms are tolerable
• The fibroids do not get in the way of conception if you are trying to have a baby
• they are not likely to cause pregnancy complications
Non-Surgical Treatment Options
The most reliable treatment option is medication. Some medicines that your doctor may prescribe are-
• Birth Control Pills-
Birth control pills regulate the hormonal cycle and are very effective in easing the pain and discomfort that accompany periods.
• Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs or NSAIDs-
Prostaglandins are lipids that are responsible for cramps, pain and heavy bleeding during periods. NSAIDs can inhibit its production and help with period pain. These medicines do not have an adverse effect on fertility.
• Pain medication-
Over-the-counter pain medicines can reduce pain and cramps during menstruation.
Your doctor may suggest a progestin-releasing intrauterine device. It can keep the symptoms of fibroids under check and help with pain management. But they are not effective if the fibroids are large.
Fibroids can be harmless. But some of them can cause health complications. You should arrive at a decision regarding surgery only after careful consideration of the consequences.
A menstrual cup is a flexible cup designed out of medical grade silicone or rubber, which can be inserted inside the vagina. It is not used for absorbing blood; rather it collects the menstrual blood.
Advantages of menstrual cups over tampons
Reasons why you should use menstrual cups
Menstrual cups rarely cause allergic reactions, unlike tampons. One menstrual cup lasts an entire day, month and even years. They are also the most environment friendly choice as there is no need to dispose them after every use. They prevent staining, leakage and do not increase muscle cramps. There is no risk of TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome) from menstrual cups, which is a major risk from leaving tampons inside the body for too many hours. Menstrual cups are also helpful if you are a swimmer. They don’t make things difficult for you at all. Menstrual cups are made from 100% medically approved silicone and not cotton or rayon. If you are unable to use tampons, you may choose menstrual cups as the insertion is generally smoother. However, it completely depends on individual preference. Menstrual cups also reduce the bulk of having to carry like sanitary napkins during travel, and urgent needs to change. Thus it makes a long journey worry free. No matter what protective measures you take, remember to be comfortable. Try and maintain a diet rich in nutrients, that can help regulate the blood flow and prevent painful blood clots. Also, it is important to remain physically active to prevent muscle cramps and back pain.