For most women it’s a fairly predictable event that is easily incorporated into daily life. And then there are others-- about 30% of women-- who experience periods that are not predictable and cause major disruption, not only to daily life but to special events, vacations, etc..
That said, irregular periods occur normally at certain times during a women’s lifetime. When the period starts, typically between 10 and 15 years old, it can take several years to become established as a regular pattern. Of course, menstruation also stops during pregnancy and often remains suppressed during breast-feeding as well. Finally, irregular periods also occur leading up to the time of menopause. (See the separate article on perimenopause).
Other than these life-cycle circumstances, two main problems can occur: the period doesn’t start up to begin with, or later on it becomes irregular.
When a girl’s period doesn’t start
You may be wondering why your daughter does not seem to have started her period by 15 or 16 years old. Before deciding to take action, it may be helpful to first make sure this is actually the case. Periods can be very light as well as infrequent and irregular for several years after they start.
There may be genetic or chromosomal abnormalities (such as Turner’s Syndrome) that cause the ovaries, uterus, pituitary gland or hypothalamus not to function properly so that the period doesn’t start[i]. Genetic tests can help clarify this.
Another cause relates to body weight issues, which can result from an eating disorder.
Excessive exercise can also lead to underweight, resulting in delayed onset of menstruation. Parents who encourage their daughters to engage in intensive athletic training in order to excel in elite competitive sports may want to be especially observant of this possibility.
When your period becomes irregular
Once menstrual cycles have been established, they are typically 24 to 32 days apart. As all women know, periods can cause some disruption, but significant pain and other major discomfort should not occur on a regular basis. (See my separate articles on menstrual pain and breast pain). Blood flow can also vary greatly from individual to individual, anywhere from 2 to 7 days. But if either of these changes significantly—that is, the spacing between periods or the flow—your periods could be considered “irregular”. You should see your doctor if periods stop for more than 3 months in a row[ii].
What would cause a period to become irregular?
The same as with delayed onset of menstruation, intensive exercise, eating disorders, rapid weight loss, serious illness as well as stress can cause periods to become irregular. Turns out that reproduction is not prioritized by the human organism, so when vitality is threatened, this is one of first functions the female body gives up.
Disruption of the endocrine system in general can result in irregular periods. This in turn can be caused by a number of medical conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS, the subject of a separate article), hypothyroidism (also the focus of an article), endometriosis, premature ovarian failure (or early menopause), as well as more serious conditions such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or ovarian cancer.
The endocrine system can also be disrupted by several types of medications, including antipsychotic drugs, chemotherapy, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs and even allergy medications[iii]. Hormonal birth control in particular can result in irregular periods for some women after use is paused or stopped. (For this reason, it may be advisable for adolescent girls to avoid hormonal birth control during the time their menstrual cycle is establishing itself). And some methods of birth control are designed to stop periods altogether.
Strangely, head injuries can cause endocrine disruption because of the location of both the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the cranial cavity.
How are irregular periods treated by conventional medicine?
Conventional medical treatment of irregular periods is dependent on the cause.
Women with PCOS who have developed Type 2 Diabetes may be prescribed Metformin, which lowers insulin and can also help regulate periods. Alternatively, low-dose oral contraceptives or progesterone, both of which are hormonal, can be prescribed.
Irregular periods caused by Pelvic Inflammatory Disease would likely be treated with antibiotics. In the case of a tumor, surgery might be recommended.
Addressing irregular periods naturally[iv]
It can be important to first understand why periods have not started or have become irregular, so confirm with your primary care provider that genetic explanations or other medical conditions such as Pelvic Inflammatory Disease or tumors have been ruled out.
Following this, integrative care, including homeopathy, has a lot to offer for those who wish to avoid or complement drug therapies.
As a professional homeopath, I first need to carefully assess the recent and not-so-recent timeline of the menstrual cycle. How long has the period been irregular? What was the previous “normal” pattern? Which aspects (cycle length, flow, etc.) have changed? Are there other symptoms that occur before during or after the period? Are there things you (can) do that relieve or worsen these symptoms?
I would also gather information on a broad range of details about who you are as a person, the history of your medical conditions throughout your life, as well as all other current symptoms and health issues.
If an eating disorder has already been diagnosed or is apparent, I typically suggest counseling along with homeopathic care since this would be an important component of your healing process. Excessive exercise might also require counseling, and in the case of adolescent girls, this may need to involve parents as well.
For all women with conditions related to endocrine system disruption, I recommend that you take measures to help balance your hormones, such as eating whole foods, plenty of healthy fats (such as coconut and olive oil), and avoiding foods, chemicals and other substances and many household and personal care products that are endocrine disruptors (make sure you read labels!).
Adequate daily exposure to sunlight also helps feed the endocrine system. I usually suggest about 30 minutes of daily sunlight exposure without sunscreen or sunglasses. Of course, during the summer months, this needs to be timed carefully in order to avoid sun damage or heatstroke!
Addressing irregular periods often starts with a good “constitutional” homeopathic remedy that acts on a holistic level and might be sufficient in helping to balance the endocrine system.
If hypothyroidism is the cause of the irregular periods and to learn more about how I approach this, please see the article called: “Hypothyroidism: the Bigger Picture”.
Similarly, if PCOS is the underlying reason, please see the article entitled: “4 Letters We Don’t Want to Hear: PCOS”.
In addition to constitutional care, specific homeopathic remedies can be used to help balance the hormonal system for those whose irregular periods are associated with previous hormonal disruptions or a history of head injury.
Other remedies can address specific irregularities such as light or heavy periods, or lots of PMS and other symptoms but no flow.
For more information, visit my profile, follow me, and learn about WellnessCareOnline, which focuses on balancing hormones, metabolism, weight and mood. And call me for a free 15-minute consultation to learn more about how I work with clients.
What have you done that has helped with your irregular periods?
[iv] A big thank-you to Karen Allen CCH for sharing her knowledge on reproductive health that informs much of the material in this section