Marla Ahlgrimm Discusses Menstrual Changes
Five common questions with straightforward answers on the most common causes of menstrual changes.
Q: What causes heavy bleeding during menstruation?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Uterine fibroids are one of the most common causes of a heavy flow. These non-cancerous tumors attach to the wall of the uterus and can grow as large as a melon, but are typically pea sized or smaller. They occur frequently in women in their 30s and 40s and often disappear without treatment.
When to see a doctor: If bleeding is heavy enough to change pads/tampons more than once an hour for an entire day.
Q: Are periods that last for more than a week normal?
Marla Ahlgrimm: It’s common with age to have periods that last longer than usual. As the body makes less progesterone (the pregnancy hormone), it doesn’t always get the signal to stop menstruation. An underactive thyroid may also be a trigger.
When to see a doctor: If periods last longer than seven days for three consecutive cycles.
Q: What causes shortened cycles?
Marla Ahlgrimm: A “normal” menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days. An underactive thyroid is usually the culprit in regard to shortened cycles. Women over age 45 can also blame perimenopause.
When to see a doctor: If cycle is shorter than 21 days.
Q: What defines an irregular period?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Irregular periods are ones that do not occur in a predictable pattern. This is often caused by stress, sleep deprivation, hormone imbalance, or extreme weight changes. Overexertion can also cause a woman to miss one or more periods.
When to see a doctor: If three periods are missed in a row or cycle length changes from period to period.
Q: Is spotting a sign of uterine cancer?
Marla Ahlgrimm: Some spotting in the weeks prior to menstruation is perfectly normal, especially with age. Breakthrough bleeding that cannot be linked to ovulation may be indicative of more serious reproductive issues including ectopic pregnancy, fibroids, polyps, or, rarely, uterine cancer.
When to see a doctor: If bleeding occurs outside of normal ovulation.