Irregular menstrual cycles can be a source of worry and stress for many women. They can also indicate an underlying health problem that requires medical attention. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long in adults and 21 to 45 days long in teens. However, not every woman has a regular menstrual cycle.
An irregular menstrual cycle or period is common among teens and adults and is usually not a problem. Besides the inconvenience of getting a period when you are not expecting it, irregular periods can also make getting pregnant harder.
But women need to know that it is not impossible to get pregnant with irregular periods – you need to plan a little bit more.
What Is an Irregular Menstrual Cycle
An irregular menstrual cycle is any variation from the usual 28-day cycle you may experience during your period. This can include changes in length, heaviness, and timing of your periods.
A regular menstrual cycle means you have a predictable pattern of ovulation and menstruation. On average, women ovulate about 14 days before their period, but some women ovulate up to 18 days before they get their period.
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Are Your Periods Irregular? Why It Matters
If you’re having an irregular period, it can be a sign of an underlying medical condition. Your body is signalling that something is wrong.
Having an irregular menstrual cycle can also make it harder to predict when you’ll get pregnant. This can lead to unexpected pregnancies and missed opportunities for contraception if you rely on counting the days of your cycle.
So what should you do if your menstrual cycle is irregular? Talk to your doctor! They can help figure out what’s happening and get you on the road to a more regular cycle—and a healthier body.
On that note, theAsianparent talked to Dr Chieng of Virtus Fertility Centre Singapore about pregnancy and irregular periods.
Dr Chieng is a fertility specialist and can assist couples (with both male and female infertility) struggling to conceive. His special areas of interest include Male Infertility, Reproductive Microsurgery, Fertility Preservation, Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
What Causes Irregular Menstrual Cycle
According to Dr Chieng, in addition to infrequent menstruation, irregular periods could mean inter-menstrual bleeding or a prolonged cycle. For all these scenarios, a detailed medical assessment is necessary to diagnose and manage the situation.
Irregular periods can be due to:
- The presence of polyps or fibroids in the female reproductive system
- Certain hormone imbalances in a woman brought on by conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Chronic medical conditions like diabetes or renal failure
“Infrequent periods often indicate an ovulation disorder. With proper medical treatment, ovulation can be regulated and pregnancy achieved,” said the doctor.
The following factors may increase your risk of irregular menstrual cycles:
We know that stress can trigger irregular menstrual cycles, but what are the causes?
Your body’s response to stress is to produce hormones that help regulate your menstrual cycle. When you’re under a lot of stress, those hormones can overproduce and interfere with ovulation or menstruation. This is why so many women have irregular periods under extreme stress.
Changes in Exercise Habits
Exercise may help regulate the menstrual cycle, but it can also cause irregularities in women already experiencing irregular periods. A woman’s body fat percentage can affect how well her body absorbs nutrients needed for a healthy reproductive system, which can contribute to irregular periods.
Regularly active women tend to have lower BMIs than sedentary women, which makes them more likely to experience fewer problems with their reproductive system. However, women should still talk with their doctor if they notice changes in their periods after starting an exercise program.
Some exercise programs may increase the risk of developing amenorrhea (the absence of menstruation).
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Excessive Exposure to Heat or Cold
Exposure to heat or cold can affect your body’s functioning, affecting your menstrual cycle. If you’re exposed to too much heat or too much cold, it could disrupt the normal balance of hormones in your body and cause irregularities in your menstrual cycle.
Dieting and Eating Disorders
Dieting and eating disorders can cause irregular menstrual cycles.
Typically, when you lose weight, your body goes into starvation mode. This means that it stops producing certain hormones, which can lead to irregular periods.
If you’re experiencing irregular periods, you must talk to your doctor about how dieting and eating disorders may affect your body.
Weight Gain or Weight Loss
Weight gain or weight loss can cause irregular menstrual cycles. This is because the variation in body weight causes hormonal changes, which can affect the timing of your period.
If you have gained or lost a significant amount of weight, you may have experienced an irregular period. Weight gain and weight loss are two different things that can affect your period, but they are both related to how much fat you carry around your body.
When your body carries more fat, it produces more estrogen (a female hormone) than when you are leaner. Having more estrogen in your body can cause irregular menstrual cycles because there is too much estrogen for the amount that needs to be released each month. This may lead to spotting between periods or heavier bleeding during menstruation.
If you experience changes in your weight while trying to conceive, it could be the reason why you experience infertility problems. As mentioned above, estrogen levels rise when you gain weight and decrease when you lose it—and this imbalance also affects ovulation and fertility.
Using Birth Control Pills
Birth control pills can cause irregular cycles because they suppress ovulation and, therefore, can cause changes in the menstrual cycle. The pill works by preventing ovulation, which means that it prevents the release of an egg from the ovary. If no egg is released, then there is no possibility that pregnancy could occur.
The pill also works by thickening cervical mucus, which is more difficult for sperm to penetrate and reach an egg if one exists in the ovary. Finally, birth control pills often contain estrogen and progestin (two types of female hormones), which help prevent pregnancy by preventing fertilisation (when sperm meets with an egg).
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Taking Certain Medications (including Antidepressants)
One of the most common causes of irregular menstrual cycles is taking certain medications, including antidepressants.
For a woman’s body to ovulate and menstruate, it needs to produce two hormones: estrogen and progesterone. Antidepressants can cause your body to produce too much or too little of these hormones, disrupting your menstrual cycle.
Some antidepressants block serotonin receptors in the brain; others work by increasing the serotonin in your brain. Either way, taking an antidepressant can lead to irregular bleeding or missed periods.
Taking Certain Supplements or Herbs (Including Ginseng)
One of the most common causes of irregular menstrual cycles is taking certain supplements or herbs. Examples include ginseng, red clover, and soy.
These herbal remedies are often recommended for women trying to conceive because they have been shown to increase fertility. However, it is important to note that these herbs can cause your body to have irregular cycles. If you have been taking these herbs and notice a change in your cycle, you should talk to your doctor about what may be causing it.
If you suspect that taking any other supplement or herb could be causing your irregular menstruation, it is best to speak with your doctor before continuing treatment or use.
It could be due to your thyroid if you’ve had irregular periods. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that controls metabolism and regulates your body’s stress response.
The thyroid produces the hormones that stimulate your body’s cells to work together and make energy. If your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, it can affect your feelings and even cause menstrual problems.
Moreover, if you have an underactive thyroid gland, it can cause irregular or absent menstrual periods. If you have an overactive thyroid gland, it can also cause irregular or absent menstrual periods. An underactive or overactive thyroid gland will often result in weight gain or loss.
Image from Pexels
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome, and it’s a common cause of irregular menstrual cycles. It’s the most common cause of infertility among women.
What Is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that causes your body to produce higher levels of male hormones, which can lead to problems with your periods, fertility, and more. It’s often associated with obesity and insulin resistance, which means you have trouble controlling your blood sugar and insulin levels.
The condition is also linked to cysts on the ovaries that make it difficult for those eggs to mature properly.
“PCOS is a condition that can cause infrequent ovulation, and as such, irregular periods and/or prolonged cycles. Other symptoms of excessive androgens, which are released in women with PCOS, is acne, facial hair and weight gain,” said Dr Chieng.
The symptoms of PCOS vary from woman to woman and may not be as obvious as other hormone disorders such as menopause or thyroid disease. For example, some women don’t have any symptoms, while others may have irregular menstrual periods or trouble getting pregnant because they don’t ovulate regularly.
“For treatment of PCOS in women who desire fertility, we usually aim at inducing ovulation through treatment to achieve ovulation and therefore spontaneous pregnancy.
If fertility is not immediately desired, lifestyle modification such as weight loss and exercise will go a long way in reversing the anovulation stage as well as modifying the long-term health risks associated with PCOS including coronary heart disease, diabetes and possibly endometrial cancer,” said the gynaecologist.
Although there’s no cure for PCOS yet, several treatments available can help manage symptoms so you can live your best life possible!
How Long Does Ovulation Last for Irregular Menstrual Cycle
You’re not alone if you have irregular menstrual cycles. It’s estimated that about one in every eight women suffers from this condition.
But what does it mean for your ovulation? The good news is that it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t get pregnant. Several factors affect how long your ovulation lasts during an irregular cycle:
The length of your menstrual cycle. If your cycle is shorter than normal, ovulation will usually last longer and vice versa.
Your age at which you started menstruating. If you started menstruating early (before age 12), then ovulation may last longer than normal—and vice versa for those who started later than average (after age 16).
How often or consistently do you have periods each month? If you have an irregular cycle where you skip periods or only have one every other month, then ovulation will last longer. Check the ovulation tracker here.
How Does Irregular Menstrual Cycle Affect Fertility
An irregular menstrual cycle can affect fertility in many ways.
If you are not ovulating, your body is not releasing an egg every month. This can happen because of stress, illness, or other factors. If this happens for too long, your ovaries will stop producing eggs altogether, and you will no longer be able to get pregnant.
An irregular menstrual cycle can also make it hard to predict when you will ovulate next. When you don’t know when you’ll ovulate again, it’s difficult to time intercourse to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
How to Get Pregnant If You Have an Irregular Menstrual Cycle?
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Irregular menstrual cycles can make it hard to get pregnant. But there are some things you can do that might help!
It’s important to know the difference between a regular and irregular cycle. Irregular cycles are when your period is different from month to month, or if you have problems with your period at all. Regular periods are those in which you have the same time of day every month.
Calculate your ovulation period.
If you have an irregular menstrual cycle and want to get pregnant, it’s important to know when you’ll be ovulating so that you can try to conceive during that time.
Ovulation happens about halfway through the menstrual cycle, which means if you have 28 days between menstrual periods (called a regular cycle), then ovulation would occur around day 14 of each month. But if your period comes earlier or later than this—let’s say it comes every 25 days—then ovulation would happen on day 12 instead.
Eat well — and be healthy.
“Lifestyle factors such as obesity could also give rise to irregular periods, and as such, maintaining a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) through diet and exercise is a good start to help if conception is desired,” shared Dr Chieng.
“After an assessment, if there are no other medical issues and a woman still has a high BMI, reducing body weight may assist in regulating the menstrual cycle and assisting in conception,” she added.
If you’re not in the best shape of your life, then you might want to take up a good exercise routine (like yoga). Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and legumes, lean meats and fish. Try to avoid processed foods (including those with added sugar).
This will help your body function at its best—and better functioning bodies have healthier reproductive systems.
Women who are trying to get pregnant should monitor their weight every day. This will help them know if they are gaining weight and prevent them from putting on too much weight. Many women who have irregular menstrual cycles may be unaware that they are pregnant until it is too late, so it is important for them to monitor their weight.
Avoid smoking and alcohol.
Smoking and alcohol use have been shown to reduce fertility in both men and women. The effects are more pronounced in women, however, because smoking has been shown to decrease blood flow and oxygenation in the uterus. This prevents the implantation of a fertilised egg and reduces the chance of conception.
Alcohol also affects fertility by reducing sperm motility (how well they swim), which can affect their ability to reach an egg quickly enough.
Stress can mess with hormones—and hormones are really important for getting pregnant in the first place! So relax and try not to worry about it too much if things aren’t working out right now.
Schedule a visit with your gynae.
If you have an irregular menstrual cycle and want to get pregnant, the first thing you should do is see a gynaecologist. They may be able to help you find the cause of an irregular menstrual cycle and help you ovulate via lifestyle change or with medications.
“Ideally we would recommend a consultation with a fertility specialist to understand the reason for irregular periods, with the aim to understand the underlying issues, in order to direct the most appropriate treatment.
We believe that the frequency of menstruation is enough to achieve spontaneous pregnancy,” said Dr Chieng.
Some medications can be used to help induce ovulation in women with irregular cycles. This medication helps the ovaries release eggs, which can then be fertilised by sperm.
If medications are not effective on their own, IVF may also be an option for getting pregnant. IVF involves taking drugs that stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs at one time.
The eggs are then removed from your body and placed in a dish with sperm so they can be fertilised outside the body. The fertilised embryos are then transferred back into your uterus with an instrument called a catheter.
“The most important advice is to seek proper medical assessment to identify the underlying cause of the irregular menstrual cycle. An appropriate personalized treatment plan can then be recommended,” shared Dr Chieng.
There are different options to conceive even if you have an irregular menstrual cycle, but the first step is to get checked by a doctor.
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Updates from Pheona Ilagan
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