This Is Probably Why Your Periods Are Irregular

Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
As if your monthly visitor didn't already come with enough frustrating baggage, there is also timing to consider. A late, early, or all over the place period can be seriously distressing. The good news is irregular periods aren't usually a cause for concern unless they happen at least three months in a row, and even then, there are ways to help get your body back on track. So, what could be going on?

Fair warning: "It's a pretty lengthy list," explains Raquel B. Dardik, MD, of NYU Langone Medical Center, so to narrow it down, the first thing to look at is your age. Our periods are naturally a little less regular both when we're just starting to menstruate and when we're heading into menopause. "As hormones become less regulated, irregular periods are very common," says Dr. Dardik.

Now, if you're in between those two transition stages, there are a few things that can disrupt your normal hormonal cycle. Sometimes these hiccups just happen, but your body gets back on track on its own within a cycle or two. If it keeps happening, though, there could be "something structural in the uterus, or an issue with the hormones that are affecting the uterus," says Dr. Dardik.

Keep reading for a rundown of some of the most common issues, and what to do about each one.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
1. Medication
Obviously, there's the birth control pill, which changes your hormonal cycle by design. Especially if you just started a new pill, you could experience some breakthrough bleeding throughout the month, but it should even out after a few months. (Plan B, a.k.a. the morning-after pill, can also mess with your cycle, but you should quickly bounce back.) On top of these, Dr. Dardik explains that a long list of other medications have irregular bleeding as a side effect.

This can include things you might not even think of, like certain antidepressants. If the bleeding is really bothersome and it turns out it's related to a medication you take regularly, you can talk to your doctor about alternative drugs or doses that might lessen the side effects.

If you think it's your new birth control pill and it's still not evening out, switching your birth control medication or method can help.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
2. Your Thyroid
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck that regulates your metabolism and controls the release of several important hormones in your body. Both an overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) gland can cause irregular bleeding "because it can affect the hormonal balance," says Dr. Dardik. There might be other signs, too, including a rapid heartbeat, sweating, and anxiety for hyperthyroidism. For hypo, the symptoms are the opposite: fatigue, sensitivity to cold, and depressed mood, among others.

Luckily, your doctor can check the functioning of your thyroid with a blood test, and prescribe appropriate treatment, including medications, that can help set things straight.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
3. Endometriosis
Endometriosis is a painful condition in which the lining of the uterus actually grows outside of the uterus. It's estimated that about 6 to 10% of women have endometriosis, but it's especially common among women in their 30s and 40s.

In addition to pain, the condition commonly causes spotting in between periods. In mild cases, you may be able to treat the pain with over-the-counter painkillers. But if things get more serious, your doctor may prescribe hormonal treatments, possibly including birth control. In severe cases, surgery to remove the tissue becomes an option.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
"Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is known for giving women irregular periods because they don't ovulate regularly," says Dr. Dardik. Due to an imbalance of androgens (male sex hormones), those with PCOS have small cysts growing inside their ovaries. The condition can also give you super-heavy periods, extra body hair, and acne.

Treatment for PCOS usually starts with lifestyle factors (e.g., eating a balanced diet and getting sufficient exercise). But if that doesn't help, your doctor may prescribe medication like birth control to help regulate your cycle.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
5. Your Cervix
In some cases, blood will look like it's shedding from the uterus, but it's actually coming from a problem with the cervix. It can be confusing because both will send the blood through your vagina.

Many things can cause cervical bleeding, including cancer, Dr. Dardik says. This last possibility is especially scary, but remember that cervical cancer is relatively rare. Other infections, including STIs like chlamydia as well as benign polyps on your cervix can lead to this type of bleeding, too. A gynecological exam can pinpoint the problem in most cases — all the more reason to keep up with your annual checkups and regular Pap smears — and you and your doctor can go from there.
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Photographed by Rockie Nolan.
6. Extreme Circumstances
If you're experiencing severe, rapid weight loss (which may or may not be part of an eating disorder), or you started a very intense workout regimen, you won't exactly have irregular bleeding. Instead, says Dr. Dardik, "you'll have no bleeding."

Other types of stress, like living through a traumatic experience, or even seriously intense pressure at work, can also cause a skipped period. Whatever the cause, if your period disappears, that's a sign you should make a change — and seek appropriate help if you think you'll have trouble doing so.

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