The health of your periods can be indicative of your overall health. Factors such as the frequency of your periods, heaviness, colour and other symptoms like pain and PMS can give you valuable insights and help you understand changes in your body and pinpoint if your cycle is normal or not. Co-founder and CEO of The Pelvic Expert, Heba Shaheed shares everything you need to know about your period.
While most women think all women should have a period once every 30 days, menstrual cycles can vary from 21 days to 35 days, with the period lasting on average 3 to 7 days.
If your periods occur less than every 21 days or more than once every 35 days, there could be a number of different explanations. Extreme weight loss, over-exercising and high levels of stress can cause women to skip periods or stop them altogether.
PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome is one of the main causes of irregular periods. PCOS affects about 20% of women with classic signs such as anovulation, raised testosterone, excess hair growth, and the appearance of “cysts” on the ovaries.
Irregular or absent periods are not normal and can be bothersome for women who are trying to fall pregnant. These issues can be addressed with lifestyle and dietary modifications, herbs and supplements, and in some cases hormone interventions.
Periods should be a light to moderate in heaviness, but in some cases women experience heavy periods including clots. This could be a sign of hormonal imbalance such as oestrogen dominance.
Periods should be a bright red colour which turns into a pink colour towards the end of the period. In some cases women have dark brown periods and black spotting. This could be a sign of old blood, especially if the period starts and ends with dark spotting.
Dietary and lifestyle changes can improve the consistency of your period. Abdominal massage and pelvic floor relaxation can also useful in reducing spotting.
Up to 90% of women will experience a painful period at some point in their life. Painful periods could point to elevated prostaglandins and inflammation, a hormonal imbalance, gut problems or pelvic problems such as tight pelvic floor muscles. However for at least 10% of women, consistently painful periods are a sign of endometriosis.
Women with endometriosis have abnormal cells growing in their pelvis that bleed in the same way as the uterine lining. These abnormal cells can exist on their fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowels and other places, and because they don’t leave the body during the period, they build up causing inflammation, scarring, adhesions, pain and infertility.
Painful periods are not normal and can be addressed with lifestyle and dietary modifications, women’s health physiotherapy, and in cases of endometriosis, surgical intervention is necessary.
In the week before the period, many women experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS is a combination of a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms, which include mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, bloating, sugar cravings, acne, headaches, swollen breasts, among others.
PMS can occur due to sudden hormone shifts in the second half of the cycle. Stress, lack of physical activity, psychological state and poor dietary habits are linked to PMS. PMS can be debilitating for a number of women, and some women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, which is when these symptoms exist all through the whole cycle.
By eating a more plant-based wholefoods diet, practicing mindfulness or meditation regularly, and engaging in moderate amounts of exercise, women can keep their cycles healthy and regular.