What your periods could be telling you

The menstrual period is one of the most basic facts of life. The menstrual cycle is the regular natural change that occurs in the female reproductive system. Every woman you know who’s pre-menopause and post-puberty bleeds from her vagina monthly. As normal as the menstrual period is, it can sometimes be fraught with certain disorders that can cause mild to severe pain, discomfort and sometimes complications.


Dysmenorrhea (painful cramps)

Menstrual cramps may occur both before and during the menstrual cycle and although cramps may be expected during a woman’s period, severe and frequent cramps may indicate a menstrual disorder. Dr. Oluwaseun Akinyemi of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, says, “menstrual cramps could be physiological and pathological, that is, it could be normal or abnormal. In most women, it is part of their normal bleeding. In this case, what happens is the usual contraction of the uterus. In some other people, the pain could be very severe. In this case, it is medically referred to as dysmenorrhea which could be as a result of some underlying diseases such as uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, or endometriosis.”

Experts have pointed out some of the causes of abnormal menstrual cramps to include: infection in the reproductive organs, abnormal pregnancy such as an ectopic pregnancy (in the fallopian tubes, outside the uterus), IUD (intra-uterine device) used for birth control, ovarian cyst, narrow cervix.

The symptoms of severe dysmenorrhea are lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, headaches and weakness.

Dysmenorrhea is estimated to occur in 20 percent to 90 per cent of women of reproductive age. It has been discovered that the pain usually becomeS less painful as a woman ages and may stop entirely after the woman has her first baby. Treatment may include the use of heating pad; medication that may include NSAIDs such as ibuprofen; hormonal birth control and the IUD; taking vitamins or magnesium. Scientifically, it is said that there is no food that causes or worsen menstrual cramps


Oligomenorrhea (irregular periods)

Although when teens start having periods, their menstrual cycles may not always be on the same schedule every month until after several cycles, in older women, irregular periods may sometimes be a cause of concern. Dr Akinyemi says, “Menstrual cycle disorder medically known as oligomenorrhea is when a woman regular cycle becomes irregular. A woman should have a stable menstrual cycle. Some factors could cause missed period beside pregnancy which are: stress — your emotions, particularly stress, can have a major impact on the regularity of your menstrual cycle; illness — being sick at the time you normally ovulate can delay ovulation. If you ovulate late, you will get your period late; exercising excessively; miscalculation; weight issues — either by gaining a lot or losing a lot of weight can throw your ovulation cycle off.”

Dr Autry, a gynaecologist adds that irregular menstruation can also occur as a result of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS has been discovered to increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

“The menstrual cycle is counted from the last day of your previous period to the first day of your next period. Repeat this for 3 months; if the number of days between stopping and starting your period is significantly different each month, you have an irregular cycle,” says Dr. Autry.


Amenorrhea (Absence of menstruation)

In some cases, there is a complete absence of menstruation. In medical terms, this is known as amenorrhea. There are two categories: primary amenorrhea and secondary amenorrhea. According to gynaecologists at the University of Maryland Medical Center, primary amenorrhea occurs when a girl does not begin to menstruate by age 16. Girls who show no signs of sexual development (breast development and pubic hair) by age 13 should be evaluated by a doctor. Any girl who does not have her period by age 15 should be evaluated for primary amenorrhea. Secondary amenorrhea occurs when periods that were previously regular stop for at least 3 months.


Menorrhagia (Heavy bleeding)

During a normal menstrual cycle, the average woman loses about 30 mL of blood. However, with some women, blood loss can be much higher. Menorrhagia is the medical term for significantly heavier periods. Some symptoms, according to Dr Autry, include soaking through at least one pad every 1 – 2 hours for several hours; heavy periods that regularly last 10 or more days; bleeding between periods or during pregnancy. Several causes of menorrhagia are   hormonal imbalances, ovulation, uterine fibroids, uterine polyps, endometriosis and adenomyosis, certain medications and contraceptives, cancer, infection, miscarriage.

Menstrual disorders are serious and should be treated with urgency because of likely complications that could arise. According to Dr Grace Ajibade, some of these complications include anaemia, osteoporosis and infertility.