There are very few things you experience during your period that are pleasant or desirable. From menstrual cramps to headaches to weird food cravings, we all do our best to get through the toughest week of the month. There are some times, though, when your period symptoms go from being uncomfortable yet normal to painful and abnormal.
To help you figure out when you cross that line, POPSUGAR spoke with Alyssa Dweck, MD, gynecologist in New York, newest spokesperson for Monistat, and author of The Complete A to Z For Your V: A Woman’s Guide to Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Your Vagina. She started off by reminding us that the typical menstrual cycle lasts anywhere from 21 to 35 days. “There is a little bit of a wiggle room and variation there,” she said, so if you fall somewhere in that window, your cycle is considered normal.
However, if your cycle is much shorter or longer than that, it’s time to chat with your doctor and figure out if something is off. Dr. Dweck also added, “If you’re having totally crazy cycles – one month it’s every 14 days, one month it’s 50 days – and it’s really variable, that’s another reason to come in and get checked out.” Basically anything that is a big jump away from your normal cycle warrants a visit to your doctor.
Another thing to keep an eye on is how heavy your flow is. “Our usual guidelines is if you’re soaking through two super tampons or pads in an hour, that’s heavy enough to warrant concern,” Dr. Dweck explained. Similarly, if all of a sudden your flow turns really heavy for a few months in a row, or you’re seeing “large clots or scary clots” of blood, and you can’t figure out why, that might indicate some hormonal balances or even premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).
Significant changes in your weight are usually cause for concern as well. For example, Dr. Dweck says if you’ve suddenly lost a lot of weight and your period is either absent or very infrequent, that could be a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is “your standard hormonal imbalance due to a lack of ovulation on a regular basis,” according to Dr. Dweck, and another common symptom is hair growth in typically male places, like on your chin or your chest.
Finally, here are some other period symptoms that you should never ignore: extremely painful cramps that stop you from living your everyday life, severe mood swings that affect your personal relationships, and period blood that smells foul or fishy. The first two could indicate PMDD and the third might mean you’re dealing with an infection.
“Most women get to know their bodies,” Dr. Dweck said. “We’re always aware of when our period is usually supposed to come, the length, also the heaviness.” So her golden rule is this: if you notice any big changes in your period that last for a few consecutive months, there might be something wrong that you need to chat with your doctor about. It doesn’t hurt to have the conversation.