Period Symptoms Not to Ignore and What to Do About Them

Medically Reviewed By Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH

Period symptoms can vary per person. However, some symptoms may link to an underlying medical condition. Period symptoms not to ignore include bleeding for a long time, irregular periods, or severe pain. Periods typically cause symptoms such as cramps, bloating, or back pain. While mild symptoms can be expected, severe or changing symptoms can indicate an underlying condition. These conditions include hormonal imbalance or sexually transmitted infection (STI).

If you experience new or changing period symptoms, talk with a doctor for advice.

This article discusses when to contact a doctor for period symptoms and what different symptoms could mean.

Irregular or skipped periods

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For most people, periods happen every 28 days, although people can experience periods every 23–35 days. This cycle is consistent month to month for many people.

Irregular periods may occur more or less frequently than this. Sometimes, people skip a period altogether. Missing a period for three or more cycles in a row is known as amenorrhea.

Causes of irregular periods may include:

Bleeding between periods

Bleeding between periods has many causes. In some cases an underlying condition causes the bleeding, and in other cases not. For example, starting a new hormonal contraception may cause bleeding between periods or other irregular bleeding for the first few months.

Other possible causes include:

Short or long periods

Typically, periods last 2–7 days. The length of time is often the same for each person from month to month.

Periods that are shorter or longer than this, or change in typical duration, may be a symptom of a health condition.

Heavy bleeding

Doctors refer to heavy bleeding with a period as menorrhagia, which can present Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source as:

  • bleeding through at least one tampon or pad in 1 hour, for several hours in row
  • needing to change tampons or pads during sleep, or finding it difficult to manage blood flow with menstrual products
  • bleeding for more than 7 days
  • passing blood clots the size of a quarter or larger
  • having a blood flow that keeps you from doing typical activities

Menorrhagia may also cause symptoms such as constant pain during periods, fatigue, or shortness of breath.

Causes can include:

  • noncancerous growths or tumors in the uterus
  • cancer
  • pregnancy-related problems, such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage
  • hormone conditions
  • conditions such as bleeding disorders, pelvic inflammatory disease, or organ conditions

Changes in consistency

Certain features in the consistency of period blood sometimes indicate an underlying condition.

Typically, bleeding is heaviest during the first 2 days of a period. This heavy bleeding may produce red blood, while lighter bleeding may appear pink or brown.

Heavy bleeding, passing large clots, or thin, watery blood may indicate a health issue.

Severe cramps

Pain during periods can be common, typically lasting up to 3 days during a period. The uterus contracts to pass the blood, causing the pain.

Some people may experience pain that is severe, longer lasting, or interferes with daily activities. Contact a doctor if you experience severe pain. A doctor may provide treatments such as:

  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox) and mefenamic acid (Meftal, Ponstel)
  • hormonal contraception to make periods lighter
  • a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) machine, which uses electrical impulses to alleviate pain

In some cases, certain health factors can contribute to or worsen period pain, such as:

Breast pain

Breast sensitivity or tenderness can be an expected period symptom. Other breast symptoms may be caused by conditions that require diagnosis and treatment.

Contact a doctor for any of the following breast symptoms:

  • severe breast pain
  • breast pain that persists outside of your period
  • skin dimpling
  • lump in the breast
  • changes in the nipples or breast skin

Severe mood changes

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) refers to a combination of physical and emotional symptoms that occur after ovulation and around the start of a period. Mood changes are a symptom of PMS.

PMS is common Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source , and symptoms such as mood changes can be standard alongside the menstrual cycle.

However, talk with a doctor if you experience severe mood changes or mood changes that affect your quality of life. Antidepressants and antianxiety medications may help alleviate emotional symptoms.

Migraine

Some people experience Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source migraine around the time of their periods. The exact cause of migraine is not fully understood. However, menstrual migraine may relate to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.

If you experience recurring or severe headache symptoms, talk with a doctor. They may prescribe medication to reduce migraine frequency or alleviate pain.

Learn more about hormonal migraine and migraine medications.

When to see a doctor

Talk with a doctor if you have period symptoms that are severe, concerning, or unusual for you.

Also contact a doctor if you experience any of the following Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source symptoms:

It may help to use an app or diary to monitor your period frequency, length, and other symptoms.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a checkup including a pap smear, breast exam, and pelvic exam annually Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source .

Treatment and management

If symptoms result from an underlying health problem, the best treatment depends on the specific condition. For example, doctors may prescribe Trusted Source Office on Women's Health Governmental authority Go to source antidepressants for mood changes or hormonal therapy for some cases Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source of heavy bleeding.

Self-care approaches that may also help ease or manage symptoms include:

  • taking a warm bath or shower
  • placing a warm compress or heat pad wrapped in a cloth over your stomach
  • carrying out gentle physical activities, such as swimming, walking, or yoga
  • asking a pharmacist about over-the-counter pain relief, such as acetaminophen (Midol) or ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • staying Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source hydrated
  • limiting alcohol intake
  • quitting smoking
  • keeping a diary of period symptoms

Summary

Each person’s period symptoms may be slightly different. Talk with a doctor if you have symptoms that are unusual for you, are severe, or affect your quality of life.

Other period symptoms not to ignore include:

  • irregular, skipped, or short periods
  • bleeding between periods
  • heavy bleeding
  • severe pain
  • breast pain

Some of these symptoms may indicate conditions such as problems related to fertility or hormones, cancer, or STIs.

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Medical Reviewer: Tahirah Redhead MPAS, PA-C, MPH
Last Review Date: 2024 Jan 26
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