Irregular periods happen to most people at some point and there are many reasons why this can occur.
There are many definitions as to what constitutes irregular menstruation (1) but from a very practical point of view, irregular periods are when your monthly periods occur with a variation in frequency each month.
How Do I Know If My Period Is Irregular?
Although most menstrual cycles will last around 28 days, it is more the variation in time between them rather than the actual duration which is important here. A variation of 3-4 days can still be within the “norm” for you but if it is any longer or if you have never experienced any variation at all previously, then it counts as irregular menstruation.
The best way to find out if you are experiencing irregular periods is by tracking your period. You can also use a period tracking app on your phone which will calculate automatically any variability and also the average duration of your cycle.
Why Is My Period Irregular or Late?
There are many reasons for irregular periods which range from temporary lifestyle issues such as stress to more serious underlying medical problems. Here are the most common reasons why your period is late:
- Stress and travel
- Extreme diets or sport (2)
- Smoking (3)
- Being over or underweight (4)
- Emergency contraception or changes in types of usual contraception
- Pregnancy: an unexpected or early period can actually be a sign of implantation bleeding
- Puberty or the Menopause
- PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome - this is an underdiagnosed condition affecting 1 in 10 women.
- Thyroid problems
Excesses of anything, including exercise, can impact negatively on your health. Specifically, periods can stop if or become irregular you are practising extreme amounts of sport. It may be that you are training for an extreme sports event and for the last few months in the lead up to the event you find you are not getting your periods. Short-term this is not an issue but once the event is over you should get your period back.
Exercise doesn’t have to be in a gym or an hour each time. It is more about maintaining an active lifestyle than running on a treadmill for an hour then spending six hours on the sofa eating ice-cream.
Sudden massive weight loss or gain can affect your hormonal balance and lead to irregular periods. This is a sign that you need to think about what is going on. Maybe you need to eat more or differently or lose weight more gradually.
Once you have seen your doctor to make sure that there is nothing which needs medical intervention, there are certain things you can do to help regulate your periods. Looking after your health, in general, will help with your period health.
When Should I See A Doctor About Irregular Periods?
If your periods are irregular in any of the following ways or you feel that they are irregular for you, then you should make an appointment to see your doctor. Often it is nothing serious but you should always let a doctor take that decision for you rather than staying at home worrying. When you do go it will be very helpful if you take a paper with your last period dates and also duration. Just another reason why tracking your period is helpful.
Additionally, check for changes in amount, consistency and colour of your period blood and report any irregularities to your doctor. A menstrual cup is extremely helpful to track these characteristics.
See a doctor if your period is late or irregular and you:
- You haven’t reached your 45th birthday and you suddenly start getting irregular periods.
- There are more than 20 days difference between your shortest and longest cycle.
- Your periods come more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days.
- When your periods come, they last more than 7 days.
- If you are trying to get pregnant and have irregular periods, even if they do not fulfil any of the above criteria.
Find The Right Menstrual Product For Your Irregular Periods
Finding the right menstrual product for your irregular periods will mean that your quality of life will not be so affected by these unexpected periods, no matter where you are.
If you have irregular periods you probably have your own system of preemptively wearing sanitary pads or tampons which you then end up throwing away as your period didn’t arrive. Or you run out as when it does arrive you have only planned for the first few hours on the go.
That’s why menstrual cups (read this if you don’t know what a menstrual cup is) are a great solution for being prepared for when your period actually does show up: no drying out, you can leave it in for 12 hours and you don’t waste any disposable menstrual products.
Here are a few more reasons why menstrual cups make managing irregular periods easy:
- You won’t run out of period products - they are reusable and eco-friendly.
- Our Ruby Cup is made from premium medical grade silicone so they don’t dry you out or leave any cotton residue behind
- If you have heavy periods you won’t have to empty them as often as you have to change tampons. They have 3 times the capacity of a super tampon.
Date last reviewed: February 2020
Written by Dr Alice Byram Bsc Med & Surg UMA MA Hons MML Cantab
Dr Alice Byram was born in England to a French-British family. Following on from a degree in Spanish from the University of Cambridge, she went to Spain to study medicine. On her return to the UK, she worked in Emergency Medicine for several years before recently returning to Barcelona.
- Munro MG, Critchley HOD, Fraser IS; FIGO Menstrual Disorders Committee. The two FIGO systems for normal and abnormal uterine bleeding symptoms and classification of causes of abnormal uterine bleeding in the reproductive years: 2018 revisions [published correction appears in Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 2019 Feb;144(2):237].
- Cho GJ, Han SW, Shin JH, Kim T. Effects of intensive training on menstrual function and certain serum hormones and peptides related to the female reproductive system. Medicine (Baltimore). 2017;96(21):e6876. doi:10.1097/MD.0000000000006876
- Carolyn Westhoff, Gwen Gentile, Jack Lee, Howard Zacur, Donald Helbig, Predictors of Ovarian Steroid Secretion in Reproductive-Age Women, American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 144, Issue 4, 15 August 1996, Pages 381–388, https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.aje.a008939
- Seif MW, Diamond K, Nickkho-Amiry M. Obesity and menstrual disorders. Best Pract Res Clin Obstet Gynaecol