Myths About My Body: Irregular Periods

Question

I’m not on birth control but my period is irregular sometimes. When is it a concern enough to go to my doctor or OB/GYN?


Beth Ricanati, M.D.'s Answer

Irregular periods are common. So common in fact that they account for up to 1/3 of outpatient visits to the gynecologist. Irregular periods are disruptful and can affect quality of life. It’s important to figure out the cause.

Most of us women have either had irregular periods at some point or know someone who has. While having an irregular period once in a while doesn’t necessarily mean you need to see your physician, persistent irregular periods merit an evaluation. Common causes in nonpregnant women include structural causes (i.e. fibroids or polyps), hormonal (i.e. ovulation dysfunction), bleeding disorders and rarely cancer. Medicines and devices can also cause irregular periods, such as some contraceptive options including IUDs and pills such as progesterone-only pills. And never to be forgotten, pregnancy can cause irregular bleeding.

Abnormal uterine bleeding is the medical term to describe anything that varies from a normal period. That includes frequency, regularity, how long it lasts and how much you bleed. Generally, periods vary in length and a normal period is considered to occur every 24-38 days and last less than 8 days. I recommend keeping a record (in your calendar or you can use one of the period tracker apps on your phone) of your periods, both in duration and how heavy the flow, so that if something is off one month, you can compare to the next month. And if it continues, then you can discuss with your physician.

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BETH RICANATI, M.D.

Beth Ricanati, MD is the Science & Medicine Editor of The Thirlby. Her debut book, Braided: A Journey of a Thousand Challahs chronicles her journey of a thousand challahs and one woman’s quest for wellness and peace. This physician-mother has built her career around bringing wellness into women’s everyday lives, especially busy moms juggling life and children.  She has practiced at the NY-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, the Cleveland Clinic, and now at the Venice Family Clinic. In addition, her writings have appeared in peer-reviewed medical journals and many lifestyle blogs. Ricanati lives in the Los Angeles area with her family and one challah-loving dog.


Patti Kim, N.D. LAc's Answer

Our periods should ideally be on a regular schedule.  So although a slightly irregular period is not anything to be terribly worried about, it would be wise to speak with a Naturopathic Doctor to help balance hormones.  It's possible that due to stress (which can be due to environment, our nervous system, perceived stress and/or food sensitivities), your hormones aren't cycling properly (almost like jet lag).  

A good place to start is to establish a strict routine in your life in terms of bedtime (before midnight and in Chinese medicine, we say between 9-11pm), wake up time and meal times.  Treat your body with the kind of care and tenderness that one would treat a baby. 

PATTI KIM, N.D., L.A.C.

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Dr. Patti Kim blends her studies in Studio Art, her background in Eastern and Western medicines and her passion for healing to truly practice the art of medicine with her patients. As a Naturopathic Doctor and Chinese Medicine Practitioner/Acupuncturist, Dr. Patti works with patients to peel away the layers to get to the root cause of symptoms, imbalance and disease. Health and healing are about seeing the entire person as a whole and Dr. Kim uses tools like botanical medicine, nutraceuticals, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, nutrition, functional medicine testing and acupuncture to reconnect the mind and body and to guide her patients towards balance. Dr. Patti works with her patients as a teacher and guide to help achieve long term wellness.