By Jill Kramer; Photography by Onlyyouqj/Freepik.com
An irregular flow could spell trouble
You may think the only thing your period can tell you is whether or not you’re pregnant — or if need to pop a painkiller because your cramps hurt like hell. But your menstrual cycle can actually clue you in to other health issues, too.
According to new research from the American Heart Association, women whose periods start at age 10 or younger — or 17 and older — have a higher risk of developing heart disease, stroke and health complications related to high blood pressure. Women who experience their first menstrual cycle at 13, however, have the least risk of experiencing those conditions. Granted, that doesn’t mean that your period causes any of these problems – or that you’re doomed to experience them if you’re an early or late bloomer. But it’s still a good reminder that your flow can serve as an indication of other things going on in your bod.
“While menstrual habits may change a bit through the decades, it’s important to consider changes in menses, such as change in frequency, length, and amount [of flow],” says ob-gyn Alyssa Dweck, co-author of V is for Vagina. Here, Dweck shares six conditions your period could tip you off to. Make an appointment with your gynae if you suspect any of them may be an issue for you.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Women who have PCOS suffer from a hormone imbalance that leads to problems with their periods and their ability to get pregnant (it can also lead to excess facial hair, obesity, ovarian cysts, infertility troubles and other side effects). Luckily, hormonal birth control can help treat the syndrome.
If you have a super heavy flow, you may be anaemic, says Dweck. Anaemia is a condition in which your blood lacks red blood cells or hemoglobin (the main stuff red blood cells are made of). When this happens, your body doesn’t absorb enough oxygen, making you sluggish and giving you other unpleasant symptoms, such as headaches and dizziness. Since this can also cause an iron deficiency, your doc may recommend supplements.
Some of the earliest noticeable signs of uterine cancer are “irregular bleeding, bleeding after menopause and bleeding in between menses,” says Dweck. Experiencing pain during sex can also be a tip-off. Of course, these can be signs of other, less serious conditions, too — but it’s worth checking with a doctor if you notice these symptoms.
Since your period is so driven by hormones and your thyroid plays such a large role in hormone production and regulation, noticeable changes to your period — like a lighter or heavier flow — could be an indication of thyroid issues, says Dweck. Thyroid tests can tell you if that may be behind your irregular flow.
If you miss a period, it could obviously be pregnancy. But if you also notice milky breast discharge, it might mean that you have a pituitary tumour, a benign or cancerous mass on your pituitary gland. Headaches are also a possible symptom, says Dweck. These are most often found in older adults (so don’t go into instant freakout mode and self-diagnose), but they can occur at any age.
READ MORE: Why Are Some Periods Worse Than Others?
An Eating Disorder
When you’re not eating right, it can affect your flow. “Absent menses in the presence of rapid or notable weight loss, with a low BMI, and/or excessive exercise,” point doctors to eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia, says Dweck. If this is behind your period changes, you likely already suspect that you may be suffering from disordered eating. But if you haven’t come to terms with it yet, hopefully this will be the nudge you need to seek help.