Irregular periods are fairly common. In fact, about 30 percent of women will experience abnormal menstruation during their childbearing years. The causes vary. Some are mild and can be easily remedied. Other reasons are more severe and may need medical attention.
One common treatment for irregular periods is hormonal birth control. Why? It’s because, in addition to being highly effective at preventing pregnancy, several birth control methods are proven to have medical benefits, including treating irregular, heavy, severely painful, or unusually long periods.
What causes irregular periods in the first place, and how do you know if birth control will help you have regular cycles?
Because the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, cycles are considered irregular when they are less than 21 days or more than 38 days. In addition, menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than eight days is abnormal, as is spotting between periods. Missed, heavy, and very painful periods are also deemed irregular.
The most common causes for menstrual irregularities are not alarming. Stress, whether chronic or short term, is the most frequent culprit. That’s because cortisol, the stress hormone, directly impacts estrogen and progesterone, the hormones responsible for menstruation. Other prevalent sources of irregular periods include extreme exercise or dieting, quick weight loss or gain, and age. Young women who have recently started menstruating and older women who are approaching menopause are more likely to have fluctuating hormones that lead to abnormal cycles.
Underlying health conditions can also disturb periods and create abnormalities. The most notable is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common endocrine condition that affects an estimated 5 million American women. Its primary symptom is irregular periods. Other problems that can result in menstrual irregularities are primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), endometriosis, diabetes, thyroid disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, uterine fibroids and polyps, and cervical and endometrial cancers.
Addressing the Problem
Any woman who’s experienced menstrual irregularities understands how frustrating it can be to live with that unpredictability. Not knowing when your period will start or how long it will last interferes with many aspects of life, such as exercise, sex, and clothing choices.
Whether your biggest complaint is simply that uncertainty or something more serious like pelvic pain, a talk with a medical professional is the next best step. Depending on your medical history, a health care provider may recommend a combination birth control method, like the pill, patch, ring, implant, or injection.
How does this work? The hormones in combination birth control mimic the body’s estrogen and progesterone, usually helping the body to have periods that occur on a reliable schedule. You will generally know when your period will start and stop. In addition, the low dose of hormones from birth control keeps the uterine lining from growing too thick. This means women who suffer from heavy or painful periods may find relief when taking birth control. When there isn’t as much lining to shed, there is less potential for painful cramping.
Determining the right dose of birth control hormones can take some trial and error, and it is important to note that progestin-only pills do not have the same effects as combination birth control. A good health care provider will work with you to find the best birth control choice. A great place to start is Nurx, which offers the opportunity to have a judgment-free talk with a trustworthy medical professional and explore many birth control options.
For some women, birth control can serve as a temporary fix for irregular periods. Health care providers might suggest three to six months on a combination birth control regimen, allowing enough time for the medication to restore the balance of hormones in the body. Often times, women can then stop taking the pill and enjoy normal cycles again.
Deciding on the Right Birth Control
When it comes to treating irregular periods, it’s important to remember that combination birth control — one containing both estrogen and progesterone — is what experts recommend. Those with only progesterone don’t work the same way.
For many women, birth control has several medical benefits, even beyond regulating menstrual cycles. It can help with acne, headaches, anemia, and PMS.
The majority of women who use birth control respond well to the hormones and experience minimal side effects. If you don’t mind being on the pill for long periods, you can certainly continue the birth control for longer than the three to six months initially recommended by your doctor. And, of course, there’s the added benefit of being protected from unintended pregnancy while taking birth control.
In rare instances, irregular vaginal bleeding may be a sign of a serious condition that will not be corrected with birth control. If your bleeding increases or becomes more severe, you should definitely seek medical attention. Other symptoms that should not be ignored are pain in the lower abdomen, unusually heavy bleeding, and fever.
Like any health decision, choosing a birth control method can take a bit of research. To start learning, check out Nurx’s website and explore its contraception options.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.