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If problems with your menstrual cycle or periods are affecting your life, there's help and support.
Most women have a menstrual cycle that's regular, around 28 days long, and they bleed for three to seven days each cycle. Some women, however, experience problems.
Before you see your doctor about period problems, it can be useful to keep a diary of your symptoms throughout the menstrual cycle.
Pain during periods is common. It's caused by the womb contracting to push out the period, or menstrual loss.
Exercise may help to manage the pain, and some women find over-the-counter painkillers effective. Your pharmacist can advise on suitable ones.
If the pain is so severe that it affects your daily life, talk to your doctor. Hormonal contraception, such as the combined pill, IUS (intrauterine system), patch or injection, can reduce period pain.
Find out more about the symptoms, causes and treatment for painful periods.
Some women naturally have heavier periods than others, but if your periods are so heavy that they impact on your life, there's help available.
Talk to your doctor about your bleeding, including how often you have to change your sanitary protection (towels, tampons or menstrual cup). Your doctor can investigate the cause of the heavy bleeding. These may include blood tests and scans.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) advises that there are a number of possible treatments available. These include:
For more information on these treatments, see the NICE advice on treatment for women with heavy menstrual bleeding.
In some cases, surgery can be an option if other treatments don’t work, or if there are problems with the womb, such as fibroids (non-cancerous growths). Surgery may include removing fibroids, the lining of the womb, or the womb itself.
Find out more about the symptoms, causes and treatment for heavy periods.
Menstrual bleeding normally lasts between two and seven days, with the average being five days.
However, some women have an irregular menstrual cycle. This is where the time between periods, the amount of blood lost and the number of days that bleeding lasts all vary widely.
Find out more about the causes and treatment for irregular periods.
An absence of periods may indicate an underlying health problem or severe weight loss.
Find out more about the causes and treatment for absent periods.
PMS is thought to be linked to changing levels of hormones throughout the cycle. Not all women experience PMS, and among those who do, the range and severity of symptoms can vary.
Severe PMS can disrupt a woman’s personal and work life, making it hard to function in the days before her period.
Symptoms appear and can intensify during the second half of the menstrual cycle, and then ease and disappear after the period has started.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has useful information on managing PMS.
Some women can benefit from following general health advice, such as eating a healthy balanced diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intake, and getting regular exercise to keep fit. Cognitive behavioural therapy may help too. This is when a counsellor helps you to recognise negative behaviours and work out strategies to change them. Find out more about counselling.
Various complementary therapies and vitamin supplements claim to help with PMS. While more research is needed, current information seems to show that magnesium and Agnus Castus can help some women.
Some complementary therapies can interact with medication, so get advice from your doctor before starting any.
Other treatments include:
Sometimes there's an underlying psychological condition that doesn’t go away when the period finishes. This is an indication that it's not a symptom of PMS. In such cases, treatment for the psychological condition may help.
Find out more about the symptoms, causes and treatment for PMS.
This is a condition in which cells of the endometrium (the womb lining) appear in other areas of the body. This is usually in the abdominal area, including the pelvis, ovaries and fallopian tubes.
During the menstrual cycle, hormones cause the ovaries to release an egg, and the womb lining to thicken. If the egg isn’t fertilised, the womb lining breaks down and bleeds, and leaves the body as a period. Endometriosis cells elsewhere in the body also break down and bleed, which causes inflammation, pain and adhesions (scar tissue).
Not all women have symptoms, but common symptoms can include:
These symptoms can signify a range of other conditions. A laparoscopy (a surgical procedure that lets the surgeon look into the abdomen with a small camera) is the only way to make a definite diagnosis.
Different treatment options include:
In severe cases, surgery can be carried out to remove the endometriosis or the ovaries and womb.
Some, but not all, women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant.
Find out more about the symptoms, causes and treatment for endometriosis.
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