Menstrual Irregularities

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS

What are menstrual irregularities?

Menstrual irregularities are common abnormalities of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Menstrual irregularities include a variety of conditions in which menstruation is irregular, heavy, painful, or does not occur at all.

Common types of menstrual irregularities include:

  • Amenorrhea (when a teenager does not get her period by age 16, or when a woman stops getting her period for at least three months and is not pregnant)

  • Dysmenorrhea (painful menstrual periods)

  • Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual periods)

  • Oligomenorrhea (menstrual bleeding occurring more than 35 days after the last menstrual period, that is, less than 10 periods a year)

  • Polymenorrhea (menstrual bleeding occurring less than 21 days after the last menstrual period, that is, more than 12 periods a year)

  • Spotting (light irregular vaginal bleeding or vaginal bleeding between periods)

Menstrual irregularities or their symptoms, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding, can be caused by a wide variety of abnormal conditions, including pregnancy, hormonal imbalances or changes, infection (sexually transmitted diseases and other infections), malignancy (cervical, uterine or vaginal cancer), trauma, and certain medications. Treatment of menstrual irregularities varies and is tailored to the individual case, the underlying cause, the severity of symptoms, and the presence of any complications.

Some menstrual irregularities can be caused by serious, even life-threatening conditions, such as uterine cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you have menstrual irregularities, such as heavy menstrual periods or a lack of menstrual periods. Early diagnosis and treatment of menstrual irregularities reduces the risk of serious complications, such as infertility and metastatic uterine cancer. 

What other symptoms might occur with menstrual irregularities?

Menstrual irregularities may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, menstrual irregularities due to a pelvic infection may be associated with fever and painful sexual intercourse.

Symptoms that may occur along with menstrual irregularities

Menstrual irregularities may accompany other symptoms including:

Symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition

In some cases, menstrual irregularities can be caused by a serious or life-threatening condition, such as anemia, pelvic inflammatory disease, or uterine cancer. Seek prompt medical care if you, or someone you are with, have any of the following symptoms:

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you experience:

What causes menstrual irregularities?

Menstrual irregularities can be associated with normal conditions, such as puberty or ovulation. Your menstrual period may last for just a few days or for more than a week. A normal menstrual flow can differ greatly from woman to woman and also varies in different phases of life, such as adolescence and perimenopause. Menstrual irregularities can be caused by a mild or moderate condition, such as stress or uterine fibroids. Menstrual irregularities can also be caused by serious or life-threatening conditions, such as uterine cancer or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).

Potential causes of menstrual irregularities

Menstrual irregularities can be caused by a variety of underlying factors, such as a pelvic infection, or a disease, disorder or condition of the ovaries or uterus. Causes of menstrual irregularities include:

    What are the potential complications of menstrual irregularities?

    In some cases, menstrual irregularities can be due to a condition that can result in serious or life-threatening complications. You can minimize the risk of serious complications of menstrual irregularities by seeking early medical care and following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications of menstrual irregularities and underlying causes can include:

    • Adverse effects of treatment

    • Anemia, due to excessive blood loss

    • Chronic pelvic pain

    • Difficulty getting pregnant and infertility

    • Ectopic pregnancy

    • Metastatic cancer that can become terminal

    • Pelvic adhesions and scarring of the fallopian tubes

    • Severe hemorrhage

    Was this helpful?
    1. Dysfunctional uterine bleeding (DUB). MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
    2. Heavy, prolonged, or irregular periods. UNC Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
    3. Vaginal bleeding between periods. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health.
    4. Committee on Practice Bulletins—Gynecology. Practice bulletin no. 128: diagnosis of abnormal uterine bleeding in reproductive-aged women. Obstet Gynecol 2012; 120:197.
    5. Domino FJ (Ed.) Five Minute Clinical Consult. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2013.
    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2020 Nov 23
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