6 period symptoms that might signal a health issue

When your monthly friend starts acting up, it says something about the state of your health and fertility…

Eeeek, your period is here again! Admit it ladies, we never look forward to Aunt Flo’s visits because they aren’t just super-inconvenient, it’s a messy business. What about when she starts dropping hints of her impending arrival in the form of cramps, bloating, heavy flow, mood swings and backache. *shudder*

While we may not enjoy having our periods, most of the time we are secretly happy when they arrive. In addition to letting you know whether you’re preggers, the flow, frequency, quantity and duration of your menses clues you in on other health issues, especially your fertility.

While what’s normal for one woman might not be normal for another, here are six period symptoms to look out for. These may signal that all may not be well with your reproductive system.

Symptom #1: Irregular periods
WHAT IS NORMAL? “The average menstrual cycle is between 28 and 30 days. Up to one week difference, between 25 and 32 days is still considered normal,” notes SmartParents expert Dr Christopher Chong, an obstetrician-gynaecologist at Gleneagles Hospital.
WHAT IS NOT? You may need to follow up with your doctor if your cycle is out of this range. Skipping a period now and then is usually a sign that something else in your life may be off, too. According to Dr Chong, your body may be delaying ovulation as a response to stress, illness, intense physical exercise ― especially in the case of marathoners ― sudden weight gain or loss, eating disorders or severe depression. If you are skipping periods month after month, it may be an indication of a deeper problem, usually related to an imbalance in your hormones. Speak with your doctor and ask to have your thyroid hormone or prolactin hormone levels checked. One of the most common hormonal conditions is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition, which affects 1 in 10 Singaporean women, stops your body from ovulating and contributes to weight gain and infertility.

“A regular period should last four to seven days… If it’s too short it’s not ideal for conception to take place”

Symptom #2: Short, long or periods that happen too close together
WHAT IS NORMAL? “A regular period should last four to seven days,” notes Dr Chong. And your luteal phase ― the length between ovulation and your menstrual period ― should be between 14 and 16 days, give or take a few days. “If it’s too short, it’s not ideal for conception to take place,” adds Dr Chong.
WHAT IS NOT? According to Dr Chong, shorter, lighter periods may be due to immature eggs as a result of a hormonal imbalance and this is often linked to fertility issues. It could also be due to stress. Ask for help to manage your stress and your flow should return to normal. “When periods are too close together, there’s a worry about growths and cancer. If they are too far apart, the lining of the womb may thicken, and if left untreated, then cells may swell and these swollen cells may lead on to abnormal cells changes, including cancer,” he adds.

Symptom #3: Very heavy periods
“Heavy bleeding should only occur for the first two day,” notes Dr Chong.
WHAT IS NOT? If you’re soaking through your pads for more than two days, especially in the middle of the night, make an appointment with your gynae for a pelvic scan to check for uterine fibroids or ovarian cysts. Another reason for heavy periods could be an enlarged womb due to adenomyosis ― a condition in which the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. Sometimes, heavy bleeding can also be a sign of early menopause. “Or the lining of your womb may be thicker than 1cm, which needs further management and monitoring, and sometimes even dilatation and curretage (D&C) to get the lining cells for examination,” adds Dr Chong. Heavy periods can also lead to the iron-deficiency condition anaemia, which can trigger round-the-clock, month-long fatigue, fogginess and mood swings. So, speak to your doctor and supplement with iron-rich foods and medication.