We all remember that day—the day when you got your first period. Once the initial shock and embarrassment wore off, it took a little getting used to. But like most women, you probably figured it’d get easier with age. After all, once you reach your 30s and 40s, you’ve had decades of experience—right? Unfortunately, though, it isn’t quite that simple.
In fact, for many women, it can feel like their period is anything but routine. Sometimes it’s heavy, sometimes it’s light and other times you have the worst—cramps—ever. As it turns out, periods don’t just change from month to month, they actually change from decade to decade. Hopefully that means they'll be moving in the lighter direction!
Here’s a quick look at your period through the decades:
While irregularity was the name of the game in your teenage years, your 20s come just in time with some much needed consistency. A typical period in your 20s lasts anywhere from 3 to 7 days and comes every 21 to 35 days (hopefully luck is on your side and you fall on the shorter end). But just because this is a typical cycle for a majority of women doesn’t mean it’s the norm for you and your body. Don’t fret if your period doesn’t come and go like clockwork. And if you have frequent cramping to boot, that is to be expected as women in their 20s report more cramping than older women.
It’s important to clarify that while irregularities here and there may be common, experiencing them several months in a row isn’t. Here’s what you should know:
· Missed periods: Everything from stress, medications and exercise can impact your period, but if it goes missing for several months, there could be something else to blame (like polycystic ovary syndrome). If you miss 3 in a row, it’s time to see your women’s health provider.
· Heavy bleeding or spotting: Benign growths, like ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids, are common culprits when it comes to irregular bleeding. Spotting can also be the result of lower than normal progesterone. But timing is everything, so if you notice spotting after sex or your period is extra heavy several months in a row, it’s time to see your doctor.
Unlike your 20s, your 30s are a time when your monthly cycle becomes less about the actual bleeding and more about all the accompanying symptoms. Thanks to an uptick in hormonal surprises, you’re more likely to experience night sweats, mood changes, breast tenderness and shorter cycles (meaning more frequent periods).
Some of these changes are due to a shift in hormones, namely a drop in estrogen levels. Make sure to take note if you notice these changes:
· Intense PMS: Sure, you may have left the intense cramping back in your 20s, but now the bloating, sore breasts, food cravings and mood swings really settle in. There are subtle, everyday changes you can make to minimize these symptoms, like getting sleep, routine exercise and a balanced diet. But if these changes don’t seem to make a dent in your PMS, ask for help from your women’s health expert.
· Extra heavy bleeding: A heavy period is hard to define--after all, it means something different to every women. However, a good rule of thumb is to talk to your provider if you are changing your feminine hygiene products every 2 to 3 hours, multiple days.
· Long stretches between periods: More time between periods may be music to your ears, but big gaps between periods could be cause for concern. For instance, going over 60 days between periods could indicate low estrogen levels or premature ovarian failure.
Just when you thought you were a period pro, then along come your 40s. Similar to your teenage years, this decade throws a bit of a curveball as period irregularity becomes your new normal. Thanks to your ever-shifting hormone levels, each month’s period is a bit of a wild card. Some months you may not have any bleeding, other months your ovaries are making up for lost time with a heavier-than-normal flow—it just depends on the month. And don’t forget about increased PMS symptoms like hot flashes and moodiness.
While you may be counting down the years until you’re done with periods for good, in the meantime, if you notice any of these changes, talk with your women’s health provider:
· Extra heavy bleeding (and pelvic pain): Because of varying estrogen levels, it makes sense that your periods may be varying, too. However, conditions like endometriosis and fibroids can be aggravated by shifting hormone levels. If you notice heavy bleeding with pelvic pain, make sure to see your women’s health provider.
· Skipped periods: Just because irregular periods may be more common, that doesn’t mean there can’t be a (unexpected) underlying cause behind an absent period. It’s important to be mindful of pregnancy until menopause.
Everything you need to know about your flow.
Women’s health is only one piece of your overall health, but that doesn’t make it any less important. That’s why GMC’s Health Navigator offers personalized care and support to honor what makes you--and your health--unique. Whether you’re in search of expert information, preventative care or recommendations for diagnostics and treatment, Sheila is always there, ready to help. Remember, there is no health concern too small.