Your Guide to an Abnormal Period

What an Abnormal Period Means and When to Seek Help

Pregnancy Test Instructions
Short Period and Other Reasons to Take a Pregnancy Test. Photo © The Image Bank/Getty

If you are trying to get pregnant, you might think you know everything you need to know about when to take a pregnancy test. In fact, many people believe that you should take a pregnancy test only when your period is late. This is certainly one reason to take a pregnancy test, but there are also other reasons.

One thing to note is that many people who take pregnancy tests are doing so because they are trying to conceive.

This typically means that they are paying more attention to the signals that there body is sending and might be more aware of when a pregnancy test might be indicated. That said, there are many people who conceive that were not trying to get pregnant.

When you are in the early part of your pregnancy, everything is very sensitive. Remember, that your baby will have all major organ systems formed by twelve weeks after your last period, making this time period critical. If someone isn’t trying to get pregnant or doesn’t know they are pregnant, they may not make the best decisions that they may have made had they known. Think about it in terms of prenatal vitamins, food choices, and yes, even the avoidance of alcohol and other harmful substances to a new pregnancy. A quick pregnancy test can change the behaviors that you’re currently doing to make your pregnancy safer. An abnormal period can throw all of that off for you.

Abnormal Period

You know your period. You know when to expect it. You know how to calculate the number of pads or tampons you will need. You probably even know what you can get away with wearing in terms of clothes based on your flow. So you would know if your period were unusual in any way. This is particularly true as you start to consider conceiving.

A menstrual cycle, or period that is unusual or different in some way than your typical, normal period could mean a lot of different things. This may mean that your period lasts longer or is shorter or that it comes earlier or later than anticipated. It may be a difference in the amount of flow. You would know this form a decreased number of tampons or pads used or a flow that was not as heavy as anticipated or that was heavier than you thought it should be. It could even end early. You may also find that it stops and starts, even if it overall, lasted the same number of days. Basically anything that isn't what you would expect is abnormal and should be watched.

What causes an abnormal period?

There are a number of things that cause your period to be abnormal or different. These can include things like:

  • stress
  • increased or decreased exercise
  • change in sleep patterns
  • medications
  • illness
  • pregnancy

Any variances in your period may indicate that you are pregnant. Typically this is what you may think of first when you think of your period being off or missing. Though it certainly is a possibility, it may not be the most likely scenario for you based on your use of birth control and sex life. An example of this might be a woman who is taking oral contraceptives, the pill, and has an unusual period.

She takes her birth control pills regularly and has not missed any days, nor had a medication change that would alter her birth control status. If her period is lighter or shorter, it is more likely simply a result of less build up in her endometrium (uterine lining), than pregnancy. Certainly pregnancy could be an option, but it doesn't make it the most likely option.

Sometimes, our bodies behave oddly when we’re pregnant. This can make your period come but in a different than normal manner. It might be late or light. It might be heavy but short. It might only be spotting. A short period might mean you're pregnant.

These can all be signs of a pregnancy. The only way to sort out the pregnancy from the rest of the reasons would be to take a pregnancy test. Sometimes what a woman mistakes for her period is really what we call implantation bleeding, a slight bleeding that occurs and the baby implants into your uterus.

What if you are pregnant and had a period?

How do women confuse their periods with pregnancy? One thing we have learned as women from a very small age is that pregnancy means you won't have a period. So any disruption in our period means pregnancy in our minds. This happens in a couple of ways.

Sometimes the bleeding you have isn't your period. This could be that you've thought of bleeding as a period, when it was really implantation bleeding. This is bleeding that occurs around the time the fertilized egg is burrowing into your endometrium. This may look like spotting and confuse someone into thinking they had a really light period, until they miss their second period.

You may also be having bleeding because you are pregnant and something is going on. This might be a hormonal issue, or impending miscarriage that requires you to get care from a doctor or midwife. 

What if your period is abnormal?

The best thing to do is to take a pregnancy test if you think your period was weird. If it's negative, wait for your next period. If it is also weird, consider seeing your doctor or midwife for an exam to help get to the bottom of the weirdness.

Your Period is Late

This one may seem obvious, but there are a large number of women out there who choose not to take a pregnancy test when they think their period is late. Some may be trying to avoid the false positives from early miscarriages (chemical pregnancy), but others simply think that they are late for a reason other than pregnancy. There are reasons that your period is late and don’t involve pregnancy.

When to See Your Doctor or Midwife

You can also call on your doctor or midwife any time you have a question about your menstrual cycle. This is particularly true if you are trying to get pregnant and notice that your cycle length is shorter than twenty-five days. You may also want to seek advice if you have erratic cycle lengths. You should also see your practitioner if you have been trying to conceive for over a year with no luck, if you are under thirty-five. If you are over thirty-five, they recommend that you wait no more than six month.

You will want to seek emergency assistance if your cycle flow has you soaking a pad or tampon every half an hour.

Sources:

Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition.

Ovulation Calendar. March of Dimes. http://www.marchofdimes.org/pregnancy/ovulation-calendar.aspx Last Accessed May 18, 2017.

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