Men find women unfathomable—more so during that time of the month: the dreaded “red-letter days.” But wild mood changes are the least of the menstrual monsters.
There are many serious issues surrounding a woman’s menstrual cycle. “Examples of these are pain, irregular cycles and excessive blood loss,” enumerates gynecologist Cecilia Ladines-Llave, M.D., program director of the Cervical Cancer Prevention Network at the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital.
Sadly, some choose not to do anything about their symptoms. Suffering in silence may seem like a sign of tenacity, but it can lead to dangerous complications.
The menstrual cycle, explained
A normal period begins between ages 12 and 13, lasts for three to 10 days, and occurs every 21 to 35 days. Each period causes about 30 to 40 ml of blood loss.
Some girls get their periods earlier than others. “I was 9 when I had my first menstrual period,” recalls Sumi Go, a food blogger from Malabon. Sometimes, girls initially get irregular periods for a few years. “This is common and is not necessarily a problem,” Dr. Ladines-Llave says reassuringly.
“Different factors, such as a sudden change in weight or excessive exercise, can change your menstrual cycle,” explains the gynecologist. Even that deadline you’ve been worrying about can delay your period. “But before attributing menstrual cycle changes to stressors, we must always try to find other conditions that might be causing the problem,” she advises.
That’s why it’s always best to consult a gynecologist for a proper checkup. “Issues surrounding menstruation are closely related to issues of fertility. It’s best to err on the side of caution,” Dr. Ladines-Llave adds.
When not to go with the flow
Pain during menstruation is a very common problem in women of all ages. When there is no obvious cause, it’s called primary dysmenorrhea. About one out of every two female teens will experience this, according to a 1988 American Journal of Medicine study by Mohamed Yusoff Dawood.
Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, has an identifiable culprit. Endometriosis is a common cause, a condition also linked to infertility.
If you have severe dysmenorrhea, talk to your gynecologist. Having endometriosis diagnosed and treated can spare you from the monthly discomfort you feel—and it can prevent fertility problems down the line. Endometriosis can be managed initially with pain relievers and pills, but surgery gets rid of the problem.
Jennifer Adams-Juan, a married blogger from Alabang, suffered from irregular menstruation even during adulthood.
Amenorrhea is the absence of a menstrual period. If you’ve never had menstruation before, you have primary amenorrhea. In the more common secondary amenorrhea, you’ve already had your first menses, but you stopped getting it for some reason, like Adams-Juan. She later found out she had polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
In 2006, Fertility and Sterility published a list of the most common causes of secondary amenorrhea, which includes weight loss, PCOS, endocrine disorders, and of course, pregnancy. Regardless of cause, amenorrhea is a good reason to consult your gynecologist. Treatment will depend on the diagnosis.
If your period lasts more than seven days or you lose more than 80 ml of blood, you have menorrhagia. It’s difficult to measure blood loss, but remember that a tampon holds about 5 ml of blood, while a regular pad holds about 5 to 15 ml.
Menorrhagia can be due to serious disorders, such as clotting problems or infections. With sudden, excessive bleeding, you can also go into shock. Treatment can be as simple as taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or pills; however, surgery is sometimes necessary.
There are things you can do for a healthy menstrual cycle. For instance, learn to manage stress and avoid crash diets or excessive exercise. “Listen to what your body tells you,” Dr. Ladines-Llave advises. If you feel pain or see something out of the ordinary, always seek medical help.
Find out more about your cycle in the March issue of HealthToday, out now in newsstands and bookstores.