Abnormal Periods – Heavy, Light, Frequent, Absent

A normal period is considered as a moderate bleed that lasts for 3 to 7 days and occurs every 21 to 35 days (menstrual cycle). If you are experiencing an abnormal period, it is important to identify how your period deviates from the norm in order for your gynaecologist to isolate the possible cause. There are different types of abnormal periods with various possible causes.

Types of Abnormal Periods

Menorrhagia or hypermenorrhoea is a ‘heavy’ period where the menstrual bleed is excessive or profuse. While the menses may differ among women, a heavy flow is one where the number of tampons or pads are more than the norm, either from your usual usage or that of most women.

Menorrhagia is also used to describe a ‘long’ period where the duration of bleeding is prolonged. This can refer to any period that lasts for more 8 days or more but is usually considered as a problem if it lasts for longer than 10 days.

Metrorrhagia is bleeding that occurs between periods and may vary from a normal flow to a heavy period or light spotting. This bleeding between the periods is not considered as a period itself and is also known as intermenstrual bleeding.

Polymenorrhoea is where the period is too frequent and more than one period occurs within 20 days or less.

Oligomenorrhoea is when you have too few periods or if your menstrual cycle is longer than 35 days. In this instance, there is less than 10 periods within a year (12 months). The period may be infrequent and the flow may be very light or limited.

Amenorrhoea is a case where there is no period for 3 months or more.

Causes of Abnormal Periods

Some of the causes include :

  • Pregnancy.
  • Breastfeeding.
  • Use of hormonal contraceptives especially when starting or stopping the contraceptive.
  • A medical abortion or the use of the abortion pill.
  • Drugs like hormone replacement therapy (HRT), breast cancer drugs or fertility drugs.
  • Infections like sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) and pelvic inflammatory disease.
  • Depression or stress.
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome, endometriosis, uterine fibroids and polyps.
  • Drug or alcohol abuse.
  • Foreign objects in the vagina.
  • Chronic conditions like diabetes, hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
  • Cancer of the vagina, cervix or uterus.

There are other causes of an abnormal period or abnormal vaginal bleeding and this should be investigated by your gynaecologist.

An abnormal period may indicate a lack of ovulation which causes infertility. If you have an abnormal period once off, then it is usually not a cause for concern but if it persists or is accompanied by pain and other unusual symptoms, then you should consult with your doctor.