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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.

You're Experiencing a Lot of Pain With Your Period

Your period generally isn't the most comfortable time of the month. Most women have cramps as the uterus contracts to shed its lining. Usually the discomfort is mild and it subsides in a day or two.

But for some women, the pain is so intense that they can't get out of bed.

Painful periods are called dysmenorrhea. They can be accompanied by other symptoms, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, or discomfort in the lower back.

Sometimes the pain is from the period itself, but it also can be caused by conditions like endometriosis and fibroids. To find the source of the problem, your doctor can do a pelvic exam and Pap test, as well as other diagnostic tests such as an ultrasound or laparoscopy.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help because they not only relieve pain, they also prevent the body from making prostaglandins -- the chemicals that stimulate your uterus to contract during your period. Your doctor might recommend that you go on the pill or get an IUD, which can also reduce period pain. Fibroids and endometriosis are sometimes treated with surgery.

When to See Your Doctor

Any period issue that is out of the ordinary for you warrants a call to your doctor, especially if it makes you uncomfortable or keeps you from doing your normal activities. "If a woman feels that it's interfering with her lifestyle, then she needs to address it," Loffer says.

Definitely call your doctor if:

  • Your periods used to be regular, but they've become irregular.
  • Your period comes more often than every 21 days, or less often than every 35 days, for several cycles.
  • You bleed for more than seven days straight.
  • You stopped bleeding for 12 months in a row (menopause) and are now bleeding again.
  • You are soaking through one or more pads or tampons each hour for several hours in a row.
  • You have bleeding between periods.
  • Your periods are very painful.
Reviewed on September 04, 2011

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