What makes a period “irregular”?

You might think of a “normal” cycle as being exactly 28 days long with a period lasting four days, but there’s actually a wide range of period length and frequency that’s still considered “regular”. A menstrual cycle is typically 21 to 35 days long, and a period usually lasts between two and seven days.

So, what happens if you fall outside of this range? If you relate to one or more of the following scenarios, you might have an irregular period.

I haven’t had a period in a long time

If you’ve just missed a period or two, it’s not necessarily a sign that you have an irregular menstrual cycle. Stress happens, and it’s possible to miss a period without it being a sign of anything bigger. If you’ve missed three periods in a row or frequently miss periods, however, your cycle would probably be considered irregular unless you’re on birth control that suppresses your period.

I never know when my period’s coming

If you don’t know when your period is coming because it comes at completely random intervals, you have an irregular period. Sometimes your periods are 10 days apart, and sometimes they’re 30. That would be something you should talk to your healthcare provider about.

I have bad cramps/an abnormally heavy flow

While not necessarily irregular in the timing sense, a period that’s heavier than usual or one that comes with severe pain, cramping, or nausea is considered an issue. You know your body better than anyone, and while many women find their period cramps uncomfortable, you should consider seeing a healthcare provider if you think yours are particularly painful.

My period is always a weird length

Periods are usually two or three days long at their shortest, so if your period is just one day long, you might have an irregular menstrual cycle. Two days could also be considered a short period for some women.

The same goes for a period that’s longer than average. If your period lasts more than seven days, it could be a sign that you have an irregular cycle. Having an abnormal period length could be an indicator of an underlying condition, and your healthcare provider might want to screen you for things like polycystic ovary syndrome, uterine fibroids, endometriosis or other disorders.

I have spotting between cycles

Spotting every cycle or heavy spotting can be harmless, but sometimes spotting in between periods is caused by something abnormal, like fibroids or polyps. Because of this, it’s a good idea to check with your provider if you experience spotting between periods.

The bottom line

Your period isn’t just the way your uterus keeps track of the months; it’s an important part of the way your health and body work. If your cycle doesn’t seem right to you, it could be your body trying to tell you that something’s wrong. One of the reasons tracking your period is important is so you can have a detailed account of your menstrual cycle for your healthcare provider.

  • “Abnormal menstruation.”Cleveland Clinic. The Cleveland Clinic Foundation. 2015. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “How can I track my menstrual cycle?” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 11, 2016. Web.
  • Jacqueline Thielen. “Many possible causes of irregular periods.” Mayo Clinic News Network. Mayo Clinic. September 16, 2011.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Menstrual cycle: What’s normal, what’s not.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 11, 2016. Web.
  • Mayo Clinic Staff. “Amenorrhea.” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic. May 9, 2014. Web.
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