Is Your Period Trying To Tell You Something? (Like, "Get To The Doctor!")

Having one of these four symptoms could be a sign that something's not quite right.
Publish date:
December 18, 2014
periods, menstruation

Your period is a symptom of being a woman -- and it also means you're not pregnant. (But you don't need a registered nurse like me to tell you that.) Problems with your period can creep up from time to time, and you may not know when you need to see a doctor. It’s a tough problem to talk about, but ignoring complications with your period can lead to problems with your reproductive system, such as cancer or the need for a hysterectomy.

It's a good idea to keep track of your periods -- it helps to know when it will come and if you are late and allows you to know if your periods are not as regular as they should be. This can help your gynecologist pinpoint possible problems. Fortunately, you can find many apps that easily keep track of your period, tell you your fertile days, and tell you when to expect your period.

With this information, you can keep track of your body and be alert for when things go wrong.

Excessive Bleeding

Among the more common period problems is excessive bleeding. In fact, it has its own name in medical circles: menorrhagia.

How heavy does bleeding have to be to be serious? If you are saturating one pad or tampon per hour, the bleeding is excessive. This can be dangerous for you because the blood loss can lead to anemia. In extreme cases, it may even make you feel dizzy from lack of blood.

Excessive bleeding is usually caused by hormonal imbalances, uterine fibroids, problems with your IUD, and pelvic inflammatory disease, among other causes. It can indicate cancer, but it's very unlikely.

Sometimes excessive bleeding can get in the way of daily life, and this is when you should see your doctor. If you're waking up several times per night to change your “equipment” because you bled through it, then you need to see a doctor to make sure there is nothing seriously wrong. Usually, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as Advil, are used because they help to decrease bleeding. Another common treatment is birth control pills. However, if these are not helpful or the bleeding is extreme, a uterine scope may be used to check for fibroids, cancer, or other problems that aren’t obvious from a pelvic exam.

Painful Periods

Part of menstruating is having pain, and there is not much you can do besides taking some over-the-counter pain medicine. The pain actually occurs because the uterus contracts and stops the blood flow to the uterine tissue, causing a mini-infarction. Once the cramp passes, then the blood flow returns, and the pain subsides. Typically, painful periods are nothing to worry about.

However, when you have pain that is severe or affects your ability to go about your normal daily life, you may need to see a doctor. Many different problems contribute to very painful periods. Uterine fibroids, endometriosis, pelvic infections, IUDs, and a narrow cervix can all contribute to a more painful period than normal. You should see a doctor if the pain lasts for several days, if it's different from what you previously experienced, if the bleeding is excessive, if the cramps start after the age of 25, or if signs of infection are present. Any time the pain is to the point that you are laid low, you should see a doctor.

Usually, birth control pills can help, but surgery to remove fibroids or even a hysterectomy can be necessary in extreme situations.

Bleeding Between Periods

Bleeding between periods, also known as spotting, is another common occurrence, especially if you are on the pill. This usually occurs in the first few months of using birth control, but tends to stop if you take it for a long time.

Another reason that you may have spotting is because you have a pregnancy that you are unaware of. This is something that needs to be checked into because spotting tends to indicate there is a problem with the pregnancy and could be life-threatening.

Perhaps the biggest problem with bleeding between periods is its connection to reproductive-system cancer, such as uterine, endometrial, cervical, and ovarian types. This is especially true if the spotting occurs after menopause. In addition, fibroids and endometriosis can cause spotting as well.

Put simply: if you are having spotting between periods, it is something that needs to be checked out by a gynecologist. It is usually nothing, but sometimes it could be a red flag for a more serious condition.

No Periods

Finally, not having a period can be a problem. If you are on the pill, it is common to skip periods or have light periods, especially if you’ve been using it for a long time. Of course, the most common reason to miss periods is because you are pregnant, and that’s probably the first cause you should check.

Another reason to skip periods is if you take certain injectable medications that are designed to prevent your periods. When a doctor monitors these, they are quite safe in decreasing your periods to two or three times per year.

Polycystic ovarian syndrome is a common cause of lack of periods. This is a condition that is related to a hormonal imbalance in the body that decreases the ability to have periods. Unfortunately, this condition also leads to infertility in many cases, and this is usually when a woman becomes concerned about the absence of menstruation. However, you should have this condition looked into far before the infertility becomes a problem. The uterine lining can become thick, and this can encourage endometrial cancer.

Birth control pills or metformin are often used to initiate and maintain periods in women with this condition. Frequently missed or irregular periods should be checked by a doctor as soon as possible.

Have you ever experienced any of these issues? Do you have any period concerns not listed here?