Period Questions, Answered

Too embarrassed to ask your ob/gyn? Here's 8 things you should know about period problems.
Are you clued-in on your periods? It's something we experience on a monthly basis, so it's good to get acquainted with Aunt Flo. These common questions (some embarrassing, some weird!) and answers can help you get a better idea of what to expect during those days.

1. What is the normal flow?
Some women release most of their menstrual fluid in just a couple of days, while for others the flow is fairly consistent each day. What's significant isn't the rate of your flow, but the total amount. So what's considered a 'normal' amount? A period that lasts between 3 and 7 days, with a flow of between 4 and 12 tablespoons of blood.

When to seek help: Of course, you can't exactly measure your flow, but there are signs to tell if you're bleeding more than normal: If you're soaking your sanitary protection every hour or so, or menstruating for more than 7 days, see your ob/gyn. Heavy or prolonged periods are usually due to a temporary hormonal imbalance, but can occasionally spell something more serious such as fibroids, endometrial cancer or ectopic pregnancy.

2. What are those gross clots?
Blood clots are a normal part of the average period, and are often shed on the heaviest days of bleeding. Normally, your body produces anticoagulants to keep menstrual blood from clotting, but during the heavier days, menstrual fluid is expelled rapidly which prevents the anticoagulants from taking effect.

When to seek help: Blood clots aren't usually a cause for concern, but if you experience excessive clotting or very large clots, you should see a health care professional to rule out any other conditions such as a miscarriage or fibroids.

3. How much discomfort is normal?
While a few lucky gals may go through their periods pain-free, chances are we'd experience from some degree of cramping. The good news is, most women find that symptoms subside by their mid-20s or after their first pregnancy.

When to seek help: If the discomfort interferes with you going about your daily routine, you may be suffering from a condition known as dysmenorrhea (painful periods). See your doctor to rule out other causes such as endometriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an ovarian cyst or uterine fibroids.

4. What if the blood isn't always red?
It's something of a myth that menstrual blood is always bright red. Towards the end of your period, the flow is more gradual and blood oxidizes to become brownish. Not a cause for concern.

5. What's up with a missed period?
If you're sexually active, the obvious suspect that comes to mind is pregnancy. But if you have ruled it out, there are other reasons why you might skip a bleed: Hormonal imbalances, stress as well as crash dieting can play all havoc on your menstrual cycle.

When to seek help: If you start to skip consecutive periods and pregnancy is ruled out.

6. Why is my menstrual cycle irregular?
Irregular periods are most common in the first 5 years of having your first menstruation and in perimenopausal women, and the culprit is often a hormonal imbalance. For adolescents, the menstrual cycle usually stabilize themselves over time. Sometimes, irregularity in menstrual periods can strike women of any age. If you've previously had more regular periods, stress, chronic illness, anxiety, poor nutrition or excessive exercise could be at fault.

When to seek help: If irregular periods are making it difficult for you to predict fertility when you're trying for a baby.

7. Should I be worried about spotting between periods?
"Spotting" in between periods occur as a normal and harmless part of ovulation for some women, but using an IUD or oral contraceptives can lead to breakthrough bleeding, too. (If you still experience spotting after the first three cycles of oral contraceptive use, ask your doctor to change your prescription to a pill containing higher dosages of progesterone or estrogen.

When to seek help: Breakthrough bleeding can be an irregular occurrence for many women but for others, it can happen in between most or all of your periods. Most of the time your hormones are the culprits, but as spotting can be an indication of more serious problems, it's best to get checked out just in case.

8. Why do I need to poop when I have my period?
You're not alone! Your period does affect your bowel movement: Research has found that one-third of women experience abnormal bowel movements during their menstrual periods, and many have looser stools for a couple of days at the beginning of menstruation. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed that progesterone fluctuations may be the culprit.

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