Regular menstrual cycles are often considered a sign of good reproductive health. But when it comes to periods, what’s considered “regular”? And could irregular periods be a sign of an underlying condition?
Every woman’s menstrual cycle is different. In general, your periods are considered regular if your cycles are 24-38 days long, bleeding lasts 3-7 days, and your cycles are relatively predictable from one month to the next.
But for many women, the reality is quite different. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormonal disorder that affects about 10% of women, and it’s one of the top causes of irregular periods.
September is PCOS Awareness Month, and our team at Solace Women's Care is here to offer education and support. Take a moment to learn more about PCOS, why it causes irregular periods, and what you can do to better manage your health.
What is PCOS?
PCOS is a hormonal disorder. It primarily affects your ovaries, and it can have widespread implications for your overall health.
Women with PCOS typically have higher-than-normal levels of androgens (male hormones), which can lead to a variety of symptoms, like:
- Irregular periods
- Male-pattern hair growth on your face and body
- Male-pattern hair loss on your scalp
- Weight gain
The exact cause of PCOS remains unknown, but it's thought to be linked to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
The connection between PCOS and irregular periods
One of the hallmark symptoms of PCOS is irregular menstrual cycles. Why? Because PCOS affects ovulation, which happens when one of your ovaries releases a mature egg to be fertilized. If it gets fertilized, you can get pregnant. If it doesn’t, you get your menstrual period.
PCOS impacts your body’s ability to create mature eggs or release them. If you don’t ovulate regularly (or at all), your periods become unpredictable or absent.
When you do ovulate, the period that follows can also be unpredictable. Bleeding may be heavy and prolonged or light and brief, based on hormonal imbalances that affect your uterine lining.
If you have PCOS, it’s common to experience periods that seem to come and go without any pattern. This makes it challenging to track ovulation or plan for conception, and up to 80% of women with PCOS struggle with infertility.
How to manage PCOS and irregular periods
The good news is that PCOS (and the irregular periods that come with it) are manageable. Farly Sejour, MD, Natalie Gould, WHNP-BC, and our team specialize in comprehensive PCOS care, and we’re here to help you find a combination of treatments to improve your health.
Depending on your unique needs, we may recommend:
A balanced diet and regular exercise can improve your insulin sensitivity, which is a common factor in PCOS. Maintaining a healthy weight can also help balance your hormone levels and improve menstrual regularity.
If you’re trying to get pregnant, fertility treatments can increase your chances of conception. Ovulation-inducing medications can stimulate ovulation, and assistive reproductive technologies, like intrauterine insemination (IUI) or in-vitro fertilization (IVF), may also be good options.
Hormonal birth control
If you’re not trying to get pregnant, birth control pills can be an effective way to regulate your menstrual cycles. They provide a consistent dose of hormones, and they can also help manage other symptoms of PCOS, like acne and excess hair growth.
We may also recommend other medications to help manage your PCOS symptoms. Anti-androgen medications help reduce the effects of high androgen levels, while medications like metformin can help improve insulin sensitivity — both of which can regulate your periods.
PCOS is complex, but you don’t have to navigate it alone. If you’re frustrated with irregular periods and other symptoms, find personalized support at Solace Women’s Care in Conroe, Texas. Call our team at 936-441-7100 or send us a message online to learn more.