Periods: what’s normal?
As with all things relating to our bodies, the spectrum of ‘normal’ is quite broad and varied. Most people who menstruate will get their first period between the ages of 9 and 15, and from then on, they will get their period once every 28 days or so until menopause. A regular menstrual cycle can be between 21 and 40 days and still be considered normal, and normal period flows can be lighter or heavier depending on the person.
Because periods are triggered by hormonal changes, there are various physical and emotional symptoms that can happen in the leadup to your period each month.
These can include:
- Abdominal cramps (or ‘period pains’)
- Breast swelling and tenderness
- Mood changes, such as feeling sad or irritable
- Increased hunger or cravings for specific foods
- Reduced energy or feeling tired
Common menstrual disorders
A menstrual disorder describes any symptoms just before or during your period that affect your quality of life. These can include things like very heavy bleeding or strong, painful cramps, but it can also include psychological symptoms such as mood swings.
Common menstrual disorders include:
- Heavy periods (menorrhagia), which means bleeding to the point where you are regularly bleeding through your pad or tampon, or you are passing large clots with your period blood
- Irregular periods, which means your cycle doesn’t stay a consistent length, or you miss periods
- Amenorrhea, which is when your period has not started by the age of 15, or when your period has started but you then miss three or more periods in a row
- Dysmenorrhea, which refers to painful periods caused by contractions of the uterus
- Oligomenorrhea, which is the term for infrequent periods (fewer than six in a year)
- Polymenorrhagia, which is when you have heavy periods more often than usual
- Hypomenorrhea, which is when your menstrual flow is abnormally light
- Metrorrhagia, which is when you bleed from your uterus outside your usual period time
Treatment and management options
If you are diagnosed with a menstrual disorder, the treatment your doctor recommends will depend on your personal symptoms and circumstances.
Treatment options can include prescription drugs such as hormones or pain killers. Your doctor may also recommend you take supplements, such as iron. Depending on your circumstances and symptoms, they might also recommend hormonal treatments through inserted devices, such as a contraceptive implant (a rod under the skin of your arm) or the Mirena IUD.
Non-surgical treatments can also include uterine artery embolisation or ultrasound, both of which are used to treat fibroids.
Surgical treatments can also be used for menstrual disorders caused by fibroids, cysts or endometriosis. These can include hysterectomy, myomectomy, ablations or dilatation and curettage.
Menopause refers to the end of our menstrual cycles – when we stop having our period altogether. The average age of menopause in Australia is 51, but menopause can start earlier or later depending on the person. A permanent end to your period before 40 years old is considered ‘early menopause’.
Because menopause is a significant hormonal change, it can have a range of physical and emotional symptoms. These can include:
- Hot flushes, which come and go quickly (a few seconds to a few minutes)
- Mood changes or swings
- Vaginal dryness
- Aches and pains
- Sleep issues
- Weight gain
If you are going through menopause and any symptoms are causing you concern, speak to your doctor straight away.
Frances Perry House is home to a range of experienced and highly reputable gynaecologists with experience in many women's health issues including menstrual disorders.
To book a consultation with a gynaecologist at Frances Perry house, please request a referral from your GP. You can choose a specialist using our specialist search tool.