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.

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                              Dr. Aletha 

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2019 Women’s health update- hormones, the heart, and HPV

Multiple health issues impact women exclusively or differently than men, so new and updated information is important to share. The issues we women face vary with our age, stage of life and health status.

Let’s look at some medical news about women’s health issues, information I picked up recently from several medical journals I follow.

This is current, general medical information that helps a doctor and patient make decisions about what is right for her. Medical recommendations and practice changes as we learn new things.
If you deal with any of these issues , please discuss with your doctor before  taking any action.

I’m illustrating this post with photos of art featuring women. I’ll tell you more about the source at the end.

statue of a woman holding an infant

Human papillomavirus and cancer 

Infection with the human papillomavirus, HPV, can cause  genital warts and cervical cancer.

The percentage of young women with confirmed HPV (human papillomavirus) infection  in the United States fell significantly from 2006 to 2012. Women who had received the HPV vaccine showed the greatest decline in infection rates, compared to those who had not. Even one dose was effective, even though 2 or 3 are recommended.

A new study reported by the New England Journal of Medicine shows that women who become infected with the HPV strains 16 and 18 have a much higher risk of changes in their cervix called CIN-cervical intraepithelial neoplasia-which can be a precursor to cancer. These changes may not be picked up by a Papanicolaou (Pap) test.

Thus, protection against infection with HPV should also provide protection against cancers caused by HPV.

Human papillomavirus vaccine

Gardasil, a vaccine which targets the HPV has been available to females and males from 9 years old to 26 years old. Now the age has been extended through age 45 years for both genders.

Here is a link to detailed information about HPV vaccination from the National Cancer Institute.


Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines

statue of a pioneer woman with rifle and infant

Long-acting reversible contraception-LARC  

Two forms of long-acting reversible contraception are available to women in the United States.

Nexplanon, a contraceptive implant, slowly releases the hormone progestin and does not have estrogen. It can be used in women who cannot take estrogen, such as those with uterine fibroids or endometrial cancer.

Intrauterine devices, IUDs, containing copper only are appropriate for women with past or present breast cancer, ischemic heart disease, and women at risk for blood clots.

Use of LARCs accounts for 12% of all contraceptive use. Additional benefits include controlling excessive menstrual bleeding, potentially saving women from surgery.

Here is a link to Quick Fact about intrauterine devices and other forms of contraception from the Department of Health and Human Services

Intrauterine Device

statue of woman, holding infant, standing next to a child

Hormone therapy and prevention of heart disease

A 2015 Cochrane review of 40,410 postmenopausal women examined the use of oral hormone therapy (estrogen with or without progesterone) taken for at least six months, compared with placebo (no real drug), to determine the effect on death from any cause, and deaths caused by heart disease, stroke, and blood clot in a leg or lung.

The review found no benefits for preventing heart attack (fatal or nonfatal), or death due to any cause.

In women who took hormones they found

 
1 in 165 women had a stroke
1 in 118 women had a blood clot in the leg or lung
1 in 242 women had a blood clot in the lung

The women in this study were all older than 60 years old, so it is possible there might be benefit in younger women.

statue of woman with arm raised and holding an infant

Vaginal estrogen and heart health

While estrogen replacement after menopause is effective at controlling the undesirable effects of night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness, it potentially increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease-heart attacks and stroke, and some cancers-breast and uterine.

However, results of the Nurses Health Study over 18 years shows no increase in incidence of these complications in women who used vaginal estrogen, suggesting this is a safe option for women who elect to use estrogen. (from the journal Menopause)

The photos- a tribute to women

I took these photos during a recent visit to Woolaroc ,a museum and wildlife preserve located in the Osage Hills of Northeastern Oklahoma. Woolaroc was established in 1925 as the ranch retreat of oilman Frank Phillips. 

These statues displayed there were all models considered for a larger project now known as the Pioneer Woman Statue in Ponca City, Oklahoma.

What do you think? Would you have chosen one of the other statues for the final version?

More women’s health info

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 

a statue of a woman holding a child, "CROSSING THE PRAIRIE"
“CROSSING THE PRAIRIE” by Glenna Goodacre, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma
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