When to be concerned about irregular periods

Portrait pensive woman in blue dress, hat holding red pencil, female periods calendar for checking menstruation days isolated on blue background. Medical healthcare, gynecological concept.

Most women of childbearing age will experience an irregular period at some point along the way. For the most part, occasionally starting a few days early or a few days late is more of a stressful annoyance than a cause for concern.
But can irregular cycles indicate a bigger problem with the endocrine system? Dr. Xaviera Carter, an OB-GYN at Tidelands Health Women’s Center, says when irregular periods are consistent and accompanied by other symptoms, they can be a sign of a hormone imbalance.
Hormones regulated by the body’s endocrine system are responsible for telling the ovaries when to release an egg, thereby kicking off a woman’s monthly cycle. If something prevents the ovaries from receiving the signal, a woman’s cycle may be off by a few days.

What's normal

There’s no set of hard-and-fast rules that dictate what is “normal” and what is “abnormal” for a woman’s cycle. While menstrual cycles are typically every 28 days, each woman is different, Carter says. Some may have a short cycle that lasts 21 days; others may have longer cycles that go 35 days, she says.
Women know when their cycle or their blood flow alters from what’s normal for them, Dr. Carter says.
“If a patient complains that her period is abnormal, then it is abnormal,” Dr. Carter says. “Typically, something changes that lets the woman know that something is different.”


Pregnancy is obviously the biggest reason a woman of childbearing age would notice a change in her cycle, Dr. Carter says.
“A lot of people don’t realize they can have light spotting in the early stages of pregnancy,” she says.
A variety of other things can also cause a woman’s monthly cycle to be off, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Medications, including steroids
  • Some types of oral birth control
  • Excessive dieting
  • Benign lesions
  • Polyps
  • Cysts

In addition, other causes can include thyroid problems, endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, eating disorders and diabetes.
When irregular periods are accompanied by other symptoms such as pain during or apart from menses, pressure or problems during sexual intercourse, a woman should consult her physician, Dr. Carter says.
“If at any point the irregular periods are bothersome to the patient or come with additional symptoms, it’s a good time to mention it to a doctor,” she says.

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