Period changes

When your cycle alters, it pays to understand why

By Donna Fleming

Everyone’s menstrual cycle is different. While the average is 28 days, with periods lasting three to five days, there can be huge variations between women. There’s usually no need to worry if your cycle is longer or shorter than average, as long as it is consistent. It’s when things start to change – or interfere with your quality of life – that you should see a doctor.


If your period is slowing, or stopping, firstly consider your age. If you’re over 40, chances are you’ve begun perimenopause. Your ovaries start to slow oestrogen production, as they head towards menopause. This is normal and there is nothing to worry about. But if you are under 40 and begin experiencing amenorrhoea (missed periods), there could be a variety of causes, including:

• Pregnancy

• Extreme stress

• A hormone imbalance, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome

• A disorder of the thyroid or pituitary gland

• A disease of the uterus

• Ovarian failure

• Excessive exercise or being extremely underweight

• Early menopause


Some women have heavy periods month after month. If you have a persistently heavy flow, it’s a good idea to get your iron levels checked, to make sure you’re not deficient. If you notice your periods have become heavier than normal, it’s worth discussing your concerns with your GP. Possible causes could be:

• Miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy

• Fibroids or polyps in your uterus

• A side effect of certain medications, such as blood thinners

• A clotting disorder, such as von Willebrand disease

• Cancer of the uterus


While some women are simply more prone to pain than others, painful periods (or dysmenorrhea) should always be investigated, in case they’re a sign of an underlying problem. These issues can include:

• Endometriosis

• Fibroids

• Pelvic inflammatory disease

• A sexually transmitted disease

• Issues with an IUD


Bleeding between periods is a symptom you should never ignore. There can be a simple reason for spotting – such as forgetting to take your birth control pill, or having an irritated sore in the vaginal area. However, it can be something more serious, such as:

• An ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage

• An infection or inflammation of the cervix

• Cancer, or pre-cancer, of the cervix or uterus

• Changes in hormone levels

• IUD problems

Don’t hesitate to see your doctor if:

• You bleed for more than seven days in a row

• You stopped bleeding for more than 12 months in a row (you went through menopause) and are now bleeding again

• You are soaking through one or more pads or tampons each hour for several hours in a row

• You’re bleeding between periods

• Your periods are so painful, they affect your ability to do everyday things.

read more from