Your period-what’s normal, what’s not

Abnormal menstrual bleeding is one of the most common problems that brings women to their physician. But what exactly is “normal”? When should you worry about your periods?

According to American Family Physician journal (Volume 99, Number 7)

“abnormal uterine bleeding falls outside population-based 5th to 95th percentile for menstrual regularity, frequency, duration, and volume.”

Or, you could say -“normal” is that periods vary widely for most women

How doctors talk about normal

Doctors sometimes use medical terms to describe abnormal bleeding-menorrhagia, metrorrhagia, even meno-metrorrhagia, which are imprecise and often misunderstood. In 2011 FIGO, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics developed standard definitions and descriptions of menstrual bleeding, also endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

This post will outline the FIGO definitions. Anytime you are concerned about your bleeding you should talk to your doctor. This information may help you describe your concerns to your doctor and understand what is “normal” for you.

The frequency, regularity, duration, and volume of a period are all important to determine if they are normal.

What is Your Menstrual Cycle?

The Menstrual cycle is the length of time from the first day of a period until the next one starts; in other words, from day 1 to day minus 1. You can also think of this as the frequency-how often you have a period. Every 24 to 38 days is considered normal.

  • Infrequent->38 days
  • Normal 24-38 days
  • Frequent <24 days

The regularity of the menstrual cycle is how much the length varies over time, usually 12 months. Is it always 24 days, 28, 32? Or does it vary, sometimes 24, or sometimes 38? Either can be normal, but if your pattern suddenly changes, it may indicate something has happened.

  • Regular cycles vary by 2-20 days over 12 months
  • Irregular- cycles vary >20 days over 12 months

What is your menstrual period?

The duration or length of your menstrual period is how many days you bleed, no matter how much or how little. Again, what’s important is your usual pattern; for most women this stays consistent, so a change is usually noticed.

  • Short <4.5 days
  • Normal 4.5-8 days
  • Prolonged >8 days

How heavy is your period?

The amount, or volume of a period is how much blood you lose. From 5-80 ml , or for Americans 1 teaspoon to 3 ounces, is considered normal although most of us find counting pads or tampons per day is easier to understand.

  • Light <5 ml
  • Normal 5-80 ml
  • Heavy >80 ml

Amenorrhea means no bleeding for 90 or more days. Once a woman has not had bleeding for 12 months, this is menopause. (This does not apply if she stops bleeding because her uterus is removed, a hysterectomy. Menopause is defined differently in that case. )

What can change the cycle length or regularity, or the period length, duration, or amount of bleeding?

  • Using some form of hormonal birth control
  • Recent pregnancy
  • Breast feeding
  • Vigorous or intense physical activity
  • Serious illness, injury, or surgery
  • Starvation
  • Peri-menopause (the months prior to menopause)

If you doctor determines that your bleeding is “abnormal” she may evaluate you for the common causes-

  • complications of pregnancy-miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy
  • uterine fibroid tumors-leimyomata
  • cervical or uterine cancer
  • bleeding disorders
  • hormone dysfunction, including PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome)

Where to learn more about menstruation

Familydoctor.org offers this easy to understand outline of the causes and treatment of abnormal bleeding.

Abnormal uterine bleeding

Información en español – from the CDC

Sangrado menstrual abundante

Most cases of abnormal bleeding have a straight forward cause which can be determined by the history, examination, and appropriate testing. Most are treatable and not life threatening. However, since a few cases will be due to cancer, don’t ignore this important symptom.

Keeping track of your periods

You can use any blank paper or digital calendar to keep track of your periods but digital apps are a convenient way to keep track of your periods.

Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker

Flo Period Tracker, Ovulation & Fertility Calendar!

It’s a smart and simple female period tracker, helpful pregnancy week by week app, accurate ovulation and fertility calendar and PMS symptoms tracker for women all over the world. Flo Period Tracker not only tracks your period accurately, but it’s also a reliable pregnancy calculator, ovulation calendar, and true fertility friend for you. It’s the first period app, pregnancy calculator, fertility and ovulation calendar for women that uses machine learning (AI). All women, even those with irregular periods, can rely on this health tracker. Log your menstruation days in a handy period calendar, ovulation and fertility tracker, schedule menstrual cycle reminders, record moods and PMS symptoms, use a due date calculator, follow a pregnancy calendar and take full control of your health.

However you do it, take your menstrual record with you every time you visit your doctor.

photo from LIGHTSTOCK.COM, an affiliate link

sharing the HEART of health

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn, links are on the left side bar here and the Home page. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

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Reliable keys to identify a medical emergency

A larged medical insurance company received criticism for its handling of some emergency room (ER) claims recently. If, after review of an ER visit the company determines the condition was not a true emergency, it will deny payment for the visit, making the patient responsible for the full amount.

Critics, including patients, doctors, and hospital administrators fear this endangers patients , who may be harmed by avoiding  emergency room care for financial reasons.

You may consider an  emergency to be any medical condition which 

  • is new , sudden, and/or unexpected,
  • worse than usual or uncontrolled,
  • of unknown origin,
  • not responding to treatment,
  • not improving or resolving,
  • interrupts normal life.

However, to physicians and other health care personnel, the definition of an emergency is more specific.

An emergent medical condition is one that, if not treated promptly 

  • Threatens life
  • Threatens one or more limbs
  • Threatens vision/hearing/speech/mental function/ function of any major internal organ or organ system
  • Threatens long term and/or permanent bodily harm
Minutes matter with heart emergencies
Minutes matter with heart emergencies

In the United States, a federal law known as EMTALA defines a medical emergency as

“a condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in placing the individual’s health [or the health of an unborn child] in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of bodily organs.”

Examples of emergent conditions include 

  • Sudden or new  changes in heart function, like a myocardial infarction (heart attack), arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate or rhythm) or congestive failure (poor pumping capacity)
  • Brain conditions including stroke, head trauma, seizure, psychosis
  • Pulmonary (breathing) dysfunction including pulmonary embolus (blood clot), severe pneumonia, asthma or COPD
  • Multiple trauma, including extensive burns , multiple fractures, or trauma to any major organ like the liver or kidneys
  • Chemical changes in the blood; for example high /low blood sugar, low blood potassium, low platelets,
  • Severe depression and/or anxiety
  • Drug and alcohol overdoses
a person having blood pressure measured

SYMPTOMS of an emergency  include

  • Shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing, especially if not associated with exertion
  • Uncontrollable bleeding
  • A seizure, especially in a person with no previous diagnosis of seizures
  • Sudden or severe loss or difficulty with vision, hearing , speech, or other functions such as swallowing, thinking, walking, passing urine or stool
  • Fainting, passing out, loss of consciousness, severe dizziness
  • Hallucinations, confusion, thoughts or threats of harm to self or others
  • In a pregnant woman- any of the above plus loss of fetal movement
  • Persistent/severe nausea/vomiting/diarrhea
  • Severe pain, especially if it prevents or inhibits body function

Certain groups of people are more at risk of significant illness with any of these symptoms, so emergency care should be sought sooner than later. They include

  • infants up to age 2
  • elderly-most medical references still call this over age 65
  • pregnant women
  • people with suppressed immune systems as from cancer chemotherapy, HIV, malnutrition, other drugs

Chest pain must always be taken seriously, even if mild.

Although in persons under 40 years old it is less likely due to a heart attack, there are other life threatening conditions that can occur in this age group. Again, especially if it is associated with any of the other symptoms, it is emergent.

Learn more about common heart diseases at this previous post

Exploring -when HEARTS break

While on a mission trip to Panama, my husband had a near emergency when a board flew into his leg causing a deep gash; our medical team members took care of the injury right on the clinic site, and he recovered without permanent damage
While on a mission trip to Panama, my husband had a near emergency when a board flew into his leg causing a deep gash; a local surgeon was working with our medical team , and with their help he sutured the wound at the small rural church where we were holding clinic; his leg has healed well, just a scar to remind us of the adventure.

IN AN EMERGENCY  CALL 911!

Helicopters transport of emergency patients can make the difference between life and death.

You should not call your doctor’s office or answering service, your mother, your best friend, or post a question on social media (which I have seen done!)

If it’s not an emergency but is urgent, then the next best options are calling your doctor’s office or going to an urgent care clinic. Posting on social media is still a bad choice. Do you really want your “friends” giving you medical advice about something they know nothing about?

We doctors don’t expect you to diagnose your condition before coming to the ER or the office, and insurance companies either. With using the above guidelines, if you even suspect your problem is an emergency, you are wise to seek help.

Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency physician shares

6 Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Emergency Room Visit

a speed limit sign with an H for hospital , 5 miles
A hospital will have a full service emergency room, although the level of services differs based on the size of the hospital.

Dr. Deborah Burton, pediatric ear, nose, and throat physician gives

5 Top Tips to Best Use Urgent Care Centers

a sign on a building -"express-urgent care"
Don’t expect an urgent care clinic to offer all the services of an emergency room.

Your definition of an emergency and your insurance company’s definition may differ-and that difference may cost you money. Read why here.

Is it an emergency? Insurer makes patients question ER visit

exploring the HEART of emergencies

I appreciate all of you who follow this blog; there are numerous other blogs to choose from so I am honored you chose to spend some time here. A special welcome to all my new followers from this past month.

To start following Watercress Words , use this form to get an email notification of new posts . Please find and follow me on Facebook, Pinterest and LinkedIn. Thanks so much.

                              Dr. Aletha 

Helicopter landing at a hospital to deliver a critically ill person.