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When Your Period Signals a Problem

Heavy periods, no periods, painful periods, spotting -- find out when it's time to call your doctor.

Your Period Has Slowed or Stopped continued...

For similar reasons, women who have eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa can also stop getting their period. Severely restricting the amount of calories you eat suppresses the release of hormones your body needs for ovulation.

Other possible causes of missed periods include:

  • Thyroid or pituitary gland disorders
  • Disorder of the hypothalamus (brain area that assists with reproductive hormone regulation)
  • Breastfeeding
  • Obesity
  • Oral contraceptives (although birth control pills will usually just make the periods lighter, rather than stopping them entirely)
  • Stress
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome and other hormone imbalances
  • Ovarian failure (the loss of normal ovarian function before age 40)
  • Disease of the uterus (womb)

Your Period Is Heavier Than Normal

Most women only shed about 2 or 3 tablespoons of blood each month. Those with heavy periods (menorrhagia) can lose 5 or more tablespoons of blood monthly.

When you bleed excessively, you lose iron. Your body needs iron to produce hemoglobin, the molecule that helps your red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body. Without enough iron, your red blood cell count will drop, leading to anemia. Signs of anemia include shortness of breath, unusually pale skin, and fatigue.

If you have a persistently heavy flow, see your doctor for a blood count to make sure you're not iron deficient, Ginsburg advises.  If so, you might need to take a supplement.

A number of conditions can increase your period flow, including:

  • Uterine fibroids or polyps (noncancerous growths in the uterine lining)
  • Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy
  • Use of certain drugs (including blood thinners or steroids)
  • A change in your birth control pills
  • Clotting disorders, such as von Willebrand's disease
  • Cancer of the uterus

You can gauge how heavy your period is by how many tampons or pads you're using. Soaking through one or more sanitary pads or tampons every hour for a few hours in a row is a sign that you're bleeding abnormally heavily.

Taking oral contraceptives can help regulate your menstrual cycle and reduce bleeding. If you use an IUD for contraception, your doctor may choose to insert a specific type of hormone-releasing IUD called Mirena to help reduce bleeding. Another option is a medicine called Lysteda, a pill that helps stop bleeding by increasing blood clotting. 

If the bleeding continues, your ob/gyn might recommend that you have an ultrasound or other test to identify the source of the problem.

You're Bleeding In Between Periods

This is one period problem you shouldn’t ignore. "If you're bleeding between periods, it should be investigated," Loffer says.

Causes can range from something benign -- such as having an irritated sore in the vaginal area or forgetting to take your birth control pill -- to something as serious as an ectopic pregnancy or cancer. Visit your doctor for an exam.

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