All too often as women we are led to believe that having problem periods is part of normal life. In pain? Take ibruprofen. Periods too heavy, too long or too frequent? Go on the pill. But your period is an expression of your underlying health and can give you valuable information every month. As a homeopath, it is always something that I try to get a full picture of. A smooth, regular period with no symptoms is a sign of good health. But what do the different symptoms mean and how do we decipher them?
Absent periods can be for obvious causes like pregnancy or breastfeeding (caused by high prolactin) or can be menopause if you are between 45-55. The average age for menopause is 50 but some women are surprised when it occurs in their mid-40’s. However, absent or irregular periods (including late periods later than 35 days) can also be due to emotional or physical stress, illness, trauma, dieting or surgery which can all be causes of your hypothalamus stopping your period. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that communicates with the pituitary gland and other hormonal centres in the body. This may mean you miss a couple of periods or it can become a chronic condition called functional hypothalamic amenorrhea (FHA). This can also be a sign of medical conditions such as celiac disease, thyroid disease, or polycystic ovaries. Early periods are when your period comes sooner than 21 days. This can also be caused by stress and illness as well as progesterone deficiency. Women in peri-menopause can have early periods as well as late periods.
Period Pain is a common symptom and is associated with an excess of prostaglandins (inflammatory compounds). Progesterone deficiency makes the uterine lining more difficult to shed causing cramps. Gynaecological conditions like endometriosis, where uterine tissue grows outside the uterus typically in the pelvic area, and uterine fibroids are causes of severe period pain. While pain before your period may be normal it can also point to endometriosis, ovarian cysts or an infection.
Heavy periods are most common at the beginning and end of our reproductive years, as teenagers and in peri-menopause when oestrogen levels tend to be higher in relation to progesterone. At other times this can signify a hormone imbalance with an excess of oestrogen and/or a deficiency of progesterone. Women with PCOS, thyroid disease, fibroids and endometriosis can also have very heavy periods.
Light periods are not always a problem, but can be a sign of PCOS, or FHA (see absent or irregular periods above). Sometimes this is just spotting outside of the period. Spotting during ovulation is common and normal. Premenstrual spotting can indicate a defect in the luteal phase (after ovulation) or progesterone deficiency as well as thyroid disease. Mid-cycle spotting can be a sign of something more serious such as uterine fibroids, endometriosis and infection, so if you are unsure of the cause, get this investigated via your GP.
Last but certainly not least there is premenstrual syndrome (PMS) which can include irritability, mood swings, headaches, acne, and food cravings. In fact there is a range of symptoms and severity. PMS can be a sign of excess oestrogen, deficiency of progesterone and/or inflammation.
What is your period pattern? Rather than ignoring the symptoms until the next time, try keeping track of them. This is the start of connecting up the dots and finding out what is causing an imbalance.