“Normal” is such a weird word when it comes to bodies because no bodies should or do define a “norm”. However, with bodily health, there is definitely a range in which something is normal. Whether it be with cramps, PMS, headaches, the dreaded period poops, aching breasts, and more… most people’s periods are usually within the normal range. The best way to figure out if your periods are normal is to track them (on a calendar or in a phone app) monthly and compare notes with your family and friends. If your period seems like it might not be in that normal range or is very outside the range of what your friends experience, definitely consult a doctor. If that doctor does not listen, find another who will, because there are serious issues as to why your period might not be “normal” and oftentimes these symptoms need to be treated.
What is a normal period?
- 28 days between cycles (or in a 21 – 35 day range)
- Between 2 – 6 days of bleeding
- Anything between a light to heavy flow that changes through the cycle
A lot of the reason we don’t talk about abnormal periods is that menstruation has stigma. Period. When you add having a period that is not “normal”, there is a whole host of another stigma that comes along with it. Will people worry you can’t have kids? Will you be seen as being grosser than others? Will you not fit in amongst your peers? This is why we need to talk about periods to break that stigma. I believe that when we talk about menstruation openly and honestly, that conversation slowly chips away at the stigma. When the stigma dissipates, we are able to have doctors believe our pain, menstrual disorders being more regularly diagnosed, more innovative techniques to deal with menstrual disorders, cures for these disorders, and more.
Obviously, I am not a doctor. I am a writer and artist who experienced abnormal periods for 14 years before getting a final diagnosis of Endometriosis with fibroids (after ER trips and many days/weeks bedridden) and ultimately having excision surgery with a Nancy’s Nook approved Endometriosis specialist. Over that 14 year period where I saw 10 doctors, I have had my share of run-ins with menstrual misdiagnoses and have spent much time researching what on earth could be wrong with my abnormal periods. Below are some menstrual disorders you should know about if your periods seem to be outside the spectrum of “normal” listed above.
The absence or lack of bleeding is called Amenorrhea. There are two types of Amenorrhea: Primary (someone not having their period during puberty) and Secondary (someone who has previously had a period but it stops for three months or more). It can be caused by many things like extreme exercise, low body fat, illness, dysfunctioning ovaries, and thyroid issues.
Painful and heavy periods. While there might be other reasons one has Dysmenorrhea (like adenomyosis, endometriosis, or fibroids), an abnormally heavy and painful period is considered dysmenorrhea. If you are concerned it might be more than just an anomaly yucky period, consult a more trained physician… I say this as someone who was told I had this, but it turned out I had endometriosis and a fibroid.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
The most common word associated with periods is PMS… whether it be used to blame your overindulgence of chocolate around your period time or to describe your moodiness pre-period. PMS can present itself in moodiness, changes to behavior, changes to appetite, hormonal acne, headaches, bloating, and more.
Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD)
A more severe form of PMS is often characterized by the extreme change in behaviors and mood which can result in large mood swings and depression-like states of hopelessness.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
As you will find out with the next few disorders, not much is understood about why and how they come to exist. Symptoms of PCOS include excessive weight gain, excessive hair growth (due to raised androgen hormone levels), acne, and irregular periods. Those who have PCOS are at greater risk for diabetes and other diseases. Regulation of hormones through medication is the main way to control PCOS. Oftentimes endometriosis can be mistaken for PCOS due to similar symptoms including increased sensitivities to food and sharp pains around the uterus. There is no cure… yet.
I have written about my own experience with endometriosis, therefore, I know a lot about it from first-hand experience. Endometriosis is when cells, similar but not identical to, endometrial cells (that grow inside the uterus) grow outside of the uterus, usually around the pelvis (however they have been found all over the body in rare cases). Symptoms include everything from migraines, painful periods, increased food sensitivities, leg aches, sciatica, nausea, fatigue and brain fog, and chest pain. Endometriosis can only be diagnosed with laparoscopic surgery and you have your best bet at a better life with expert excision surgery (LAPEX) with an expert endometriosis specialist. Hysterectomy and hormonal treatments are not a cure nor do they treat endometriosis. To find an endometriosis specialist, check out Nancy’s Nook Endometriosis Education, a private Facebook group with a list of doctors and resources. There is no cure… yet.
Adenomyosis is the evil cousin of the already evil Endometriosis. In Adenomyosis, the endometrium-like cells grow in the muscle walls of the uterus. Adenomyosis is often characterized by heavy, painful uterus, and heavy long periods. There is no surgery yet that can appropriately remove the cells (except for some experimental surgeries performed by endometriosis specialists) from the uterine muscle, therefore hysterectomy is the only cure, for now.
When my expert excision doctor went in to find endometriosis, he found a fibroid (which he removed). Through all of my research and doctor visits no one had ever mentioned fibroids to me so I had to go home and google what it was after my post-op appointment. Fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the muscle of the uterus. It is unknown why some people get them over others but they can cause painful periods, heavy bleeding, swollen abdominal area, and back and leg pain. There is no cure, but expert excision doctors can remove them in LAPEX surgery.
Like fibroids, polyps are a benign tumor that causes heavy periods. Unlike Fibroids, they grow inside the uterus lining and may cause periods to be irregular. Options for relief include surgery or hormonal treatments.
If you feel your period is abnormal, I highly suggest you do not diagnose yourself but instead do more research to see if it could be one of these issues and take the findings to your doctor. If your doctor is dismissive of your educated concerns, see another doctor. Not all doctors are created equal! It took me nine doctors to finally find my 10th doctor who took my concerns seriously and performed LAPEX surgery on me for my endometriosis and fibroid… something that took 14 years and countless nights of crying.
Keep talking about periods! Keep shouting about them from the rooftops and whether your period is normal or abnormal, know that you are not alone in your journey. We are all going through this together and because of that, as Professor Lupin would say… “have some chocolate”.