6 Things That Can Make Your Period Irregular

By Hollie Jones

Generally speaking, women tend to have cycles that last anywhere between 21 to 35 days (the average is 28 days) and a period tends to appear for two to eight days of this. You might barely notice your period and have a cycle that comes round like clockwork and only lasts for a few days. You might have a heavy flow and excruciating cramps, or wild mood swings and a certain unpredictability to your period

So it’s hard to know what is “normal” when it comes to periods. However, sometimes our periods feel out of sync or irregular. Irregular periods (changes in the duration of your period, the unpredictability of your cycle, the heaviness of your flow or the pain you feel) are very common and can be down to a whole range of things, some of which are more serious than others.  

In this post I’ll be looking at six things that can make your period irregular, and why.

Extreme exercising

We all know that exercise is good for both your physical and mental health for a million different reasons. But did you know that doing a lot of exercise (and we mean a lot) can make your period irregular or even stop it completely?

This is pretty common in female runners or athletes who train loads and have intense fitness regimes. It’s thought to be because of the mismatch between the amount of energy you take in (in food) and the amount you expend; your body needs a certain amount of energy (in the form of calories) to keep all of its basic systems ticking along. 

If this balance isn’t there, your body is placed under physical stress as it tries to redirect your energy supplies to the right places, which changes your hormone levels and can put your menstrual cycle on hold — either throwing it out of sync or stopping it completely. 

Poor mental health and stress

PMS can cause mood symptoms like irritability, anxiety and a low mood, and about 5% of women also experience the more severe premenstrual dysphoric disorder, or PMDD (check out this post for more information on depression during your period).

So we all know that periods can impact our mental health and mood, but can it work the other way round? The answer is a resounding yes

If you’re feeling stressed for whatever reason, your body produces more cortisol — which is the hormone responsible for stress. This can interfere with your normal balance of hormones, and affect ovulation — which throws off your cycle and makes your period irregular. 

Changing birth control 

If you’ve changed birth control (using the type of contraceptive pill you use), then it can truly make your periods go haywire for a while. 

Speaking from experience, I found that when I changed from the combined pill (which contains both estrogen and progesterone) to the progesterone-only pill, my body did not know what was going on. I went from having heavy, regular periods to an erratic cycle that was a nightmare to predict for about five months, before my periods stopped completely.

This is because birth control is essentially pumping a load of hormones into your body to trick it into not being pregnant. The problem is that when you mess with these hormone levels — by changing pills, stopping them or moving to another contraceptive method — your body starts reacting in all kinds of funny. 

Weight gain or loss

Any dramatic weight change — whether it’s gain or loss — can impact your period, making it irregular, delayed or stop completely. If you are severely underweight or go on a crash diet and lose a chunk suddenly, this can affect your periods in the same way that extreme exercise can; because you have an energy deficit, your body shuts your periods down. 

You might think that being obese or rapid weight gain could work in the other direction; giving you heavy and longer periods.

However, weight gain can actually make your period stop too. This is due to an excess of fat cells, which produce and store estrogen. Your body interprets this in the same way as the rise in estrogen when you’re pregnant, so it stops your periods again (although they will come back long and heavier when they do turn up again). Basically, a healthy weight equals regular periods. 

Medical conditions

Sometimes, period irregularities can be due to a more serious underlying medical condition that you might not be aware of. 

Irregular periods could be a sign of:

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Uterine fibroids and polyps
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
  • Endometriosis
  • Thyroid problems

There are other signs to look for if you think might have a more serious medical condition, such as:

  • Spotting between periods
  • Severely painful cramps that make it difficult to carry on with life as normal (and painkillers don’t help)
  • Pain when you go to the toilet, have sex or when you’re not menstruating
  • Super heavy bleeding (your period lasts for over seven days, you have to change pads every hour, or passing blood clots bigger than a quarter)
  • Feeling dizzy, weak or having a fever

If you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms too, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and get a medical opinion on what you’re experiencing. There are also many ways that you can manage conditions like Endometriosis and lots of helpful advice to be found. 

Long-distance traveling

You might not think about it, but traveling can actually have an impact on the regularity of your period. Long-haul flights that cross multiple time zones can have an impact on your internal body clock — in the form of jet lag. Jet causes all sorts of disruption to our body clocks, which is why you feel out of rhythm and struggle to sleep or stay awake after a long flight. 

These natural rhythms of ours — known as circadian rhythms — run on chemical releases (like hormones) and control our sleeping patterns, eating habits, and menstrual cycles too. When these hormonal balances are thrown out of sync, the result is a late or irregular period. 

Add in some extra sleep deprivation from your disrupted sleeping pattern, and your body gets even more stressed — which makes your period even more irregular. Aren’t bodies great?!

These are six of the main things that can make your period irregular. The majority of causes can be easily fixed or adjusted, so don’t panic and listen to what your body needs. 

If you’re worried about any of these or wondering how to get your period back to normal, you can speak to your doctor for more advice.

Hollie Jones is an expert lifestyle blogger who lives for writing. Hollie’s drive, passion and background come from the arts and media sectors. She’s worked with some of the biggest and most responsible brands in the world, making her ideally positioned to offer lifestyle support and advice. You can read her latest blog posts on Hollie and the Ivy, where she shares tips and advice about her passions while having a lot of fun along the way.

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