5 min read
by Toni Brannagan | 10/08/2020
Even though periods are *allegedly* a constant, occurring every month, there are a whole lot of things that disrupt that cycle. And while missing a period when you’re counting the days to your next period is pretty darn stressful, having a period that just keeps on going can also get pretty inconvenient. Just like a skipped period, a longer period than normal can also be a sign something is amiss — it’s important to pay attention to your body!
Periods aren’t one-size-fits-all. From the age of your first menstrual cycle to the age of your last, what a “heavy day” means to you, or the length of your cycle itself — there are many opportunities for variation.
What we do know is that the average cycle length is 28 days, and the average period length is 2 to 7 days. (Where are these people with 2-day periods?? Show yourselves!) Technically, if your period is longer than 7 days, it’s considered a long period. What’s also important to consider, however, is changes to your cycle. If your typical period was 3-4 days for years, then all of a sudden you jumped up to 7 days, it might be worth checking out too! On the flipside, if you consistently have a 7 day period, and every couple months you’re spotting on day 8-9, it’s probably less likely there is an underlying cause.
Let’s go through what some of those might be now — if you’re experiencing any menstrual irregularities, and suspect you may be experiencing any of the following issues, you should make an appointment with your gynecologist to establish a treatment plan.
Menorrhagia is the official name for heavy and prolonged periods, and can be caused by a number of different things, some of which we’ll go into more detail later. Besides bleeding longer than a week, some of the other symptoms include bleeding through a period product every hour for several consecutive hours, passing quarter-sized blood clots, and experiencing symptoms of anemia (fatigue, shortness of breath).
Sometimes, menorrhagia is paired with extreme cramps — you should always check in with your doctor ASAP if you’re experiencing abnormal pain.
Your thyroid hormones do a lot of work to keep your body running smoothly, including regulating your energy and temperature levels. If your body isn’t producing those hormones properly (hypothyroidism), bodily functions can slow down and your reproductive cycle could be affected. One of those symptoms could be irregular growth and shedding of your uterine lining, which can cause random heavy periods.
Typically, PCOS symptoms appear during first and early periods, but can also develop later in life. The symptoms also vary, but a diagnosis of PCOS occurs when someone experiences two of the following: irregular periods (infrequent *or* prolonged periods), excess androgen (male hormones), and polycystic ovaries.
Since there’s no universal definition, PCOS can sometimes be difficult to diagnose and complicated to treat — you can read more about PCOS in this article.
While you should still hit up your doctor if you notice you’re bleeding a few extra days, irregular periods (both long and short) can be caused by a routine change to your lifestyle. This could be changes to your exercise regimen, a new birth control, or another medication — even aspirin or anti-inflammatories.
If there’s a possibility you’re pregnant, prolonged bleeding that seems like a period could also be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
Even if you’ve been a period-ing pro for years, there’s no surefire way to know what changes are occurring to your cycle without keeping track. Think about it — how’re you supposed to know if your period is irregular without knowing what’s regular? Download an app! Go old school and pick up a pocket cal! I’m not saying you have to audit your flow every month, but try jotting down just a few details:
cycle length (how many days pass between Day 1 of your periods?)
how many days you’re period-ing
PMS symptoms, and when they occur during your cycle
This is also useful info to have handy for doctor’s appointments. (Who among us hasn’t just blurted out a random date when the nurse at the gyno asks when your last period was?) Being a more active participant in your body’s health is always a good idea.
Have you ever experienced *long* periods, or surprise irregularities in your cycle? Share your experience with us in the comments.
Toni Brannagan is a writer and was the former Copy and Content Manager at Thinx.
by Toni Brannagan