What Are Menstrual Cycle Problems?

How to Determine If Your Period Symptoms Are Outside the "Normal" Range

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According to the National Institutes for Health, three out of every four women suffer from some kind of menstrual cycle problem, ranging from mild to serious. Menstrual cycle problems make their presence known through myriad physical and emotional symptoms, so when do you know that your symptoms are considered outside of the "normal" range?

Menstrual Cycle Questionnaire

Read the following questions about the common signs and symptoms and consider whether they apply to you:

  1. Do the days before your period make you wish you could just stay in bed?
  2. Do you crave salty or sweet foods like potato chips and candy the days before you bleed?
  3. Have you been bleeding or spotting between periods?
  4. Are your periods so unpredictable you can’t make plans?
  5. Is it difficult, even impossible, to button or zip your clothes shortly before your period starts?
  6. Do you sometimes feel so bloated just before menstruating that you wonder if your scale is broken when it doesn’t say you’ve gained ten pounds?
  7. Has it been so long since you had your last period you aren’t sure what month, or season it was?
  8. Do you have frequent menstrual cycles, less than 21 days apart?
  9. Is your period so light that you’re not even sure you’re menstruating?
  10. Do you change tampons or pads more than six times a day?
  11. Do you have more headaches, or migraines, when your period’s due?
  12. Do you have periods that last longer than seven days?
  1. Do you have regular menstrual cycles that are more than 35 days, or 5 weeks, apart?
  2. Do pelvic pains or cramps warn you when your period’s going to start?
  3. Do menstrual cramps feel worse than childbirth: or at least worse than the way you imagine labor pains might feel?
  4. Do you have constipation or diarrhea every time you start your period?
  1. Do you have pelvic pain that occurs around the time you ovulate?
  2. Do you feel anxious just before menstruation?
  3. Do you go from happy to mad to sad and back again often before your period?
  4. Do you feel sadness before your period starts that goes away once menstruation begins?

Understanding Your Answers

Answering "yes" to one or more of these questions may indicate a menstrual cycle problem. But which menstrual cycle problem, you ask?  Here are a few different possibilities to consider.

Common Menstrual Cycle Problems

Heavy menstruation, also known as menorrhagia, is usually the result of a hormonal imbalance. Women using intrauterine devices (IUDs) may also experience excessive or prolonged periods. If you experience excessive uterine bleeding while using an IUD, the device should be removed and replaced with an alternative birth control method.

Usually detected soon after menstruation begins, platelet disorders are the most common blood disorder that causes excessive bleeding. The most common platelet disorder is von Willebrand's disease.

Women with von Willebrand's disease commonly will experience not only heavy menstrual bleeding, but also nosebleeds, easy bruising, and blood in the stool.

Amenorrhea and oligomenorrhea are the absence of menstruation.

Primary amenorrhea occurs when menses doesn’t occur by age 16. You may receive a diagnosis of secondary amenorrhea if you have had periods previously, but you haven’t menstruated for several months. Oligomenorrhea occurs when your menstrual cycles last longer than 35 days.

Irregular bleeding is also a symptom of benign uterine fibroid tumors (or leiomyomas). While the symptoms of uterine fibroid tumors can be unpleasant, the good news is that because the tumors are estrogen-dependent, fibroids often shrink and disappear as estrogen levels decline at menopause. It is extremely rare for uterine fibroid tumors to be malignant or cancerous.

Other causes of excessive bleeding that your healthcare provider should consider include cervical or endometrial polyps, lupus, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), cervical cancer, or endometrial cancer.

The Bottom Line

If you aren't sure whether your menstrual symptoms are in the normal range, it's best to consult your doctor. She can determine the proper course of treatment.

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