- Take the Menopause Quiz
- Disease Prevention in Women Slideshow Pictures
- Surprising Health Benefits of Sex Slideshow
- Patient Comments: Menstruation - Your Period
- Patient Comments: Menstruation - Problems
- Patient Comments: Menstruation - Age at First Period
- Patient Comments: Menstruation - Pads and Tampons
- Find a local Obstetrician-Gynecologist in your town
- Menstruation facts*
- What is menstruation?
- What is the menstrual cycle?
- What happens during the menstrual cycle?
- What is a typical menstrual period like?
- What kinds of problems do women have with their periods?
- When does a girl usually get her first period?
- How long does a woman have periods?
- When should I see a doctor about my period?
- How often should I change my pad/tampon?
Quick GuidePelvic Pain: What's Causing Your Pelvic Pain?
What is a typical menstrual period like?
During your period, you shed the thickened uterine lining and extra blood through the vagina. Your period may not be the same every month. It may also be different than other women's periods. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy in terms of how much blood comes out of the vagina. This is called menstrual flow. The length of the period also varies. Most periods last from 3 to 5 days. But, anywhere from 2 to 7 days is normal.
For the first few years after menstruation begins, longer cycles are common. A woman's cycle tends to shorten and become more regular with age. Most of the time, periods will be in the range of 21 to 35 days apart.
What kinds of problems do women have with their periods?
Women can have a range of problems with their periods, including pain, heavy bleeding, and skipped periods.
Amenorrhea (ay-men-uh-REE-uh) — the lack of a menstrual period. This term is used to describe the absence of a period in:
- Young women who haven't started menstruating by age 15
- Women and girls who haven't had a period for 90 days, even if they haven't been menstruating for long
Causes can include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Eating disorders
- Excessive exercising
- Serious medical conditions in need of treatment
As mentioned previously, when your menstrual cycles come regularly, this means that important parts of your body are working normally. In some cases, not having menstrual periods can mean that your ovaries have stopped producing normal amounts of estrogen. Missing these hormones can have important effects on your overall health. Hormonal problems, such as those caused by polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or serious problems with the reproductive organs, may be involved. It's important to talk to a doctor if you have this problem.
Dysmenorrhea (dis-men-uh-REE-uh) - painful periods, including severe cramps. Menstrual cramps in teens are caused by too much of a chemical called prostaglandin (pros-tuh-GLAN-duhn). Most teens with dysmenorrhea do not have a serious disease, even though the cramps can be severe. In older women, the pain is sometimes caused by a disease or condition such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis.
For some women, using a heating pad or taking a warm bath helps ease their cramps. Some over-the-counter pain medicines can also help with these symptoms. They include:
- Ibuprofen (eye-byu-PROH-fuhn) (for instance, Advil, Motrin, Midol Cramp)
- Ketoprofen (key-toh-PROH-fuhn) (for instance, Orudis KT)
- Naproxen (nuh-PROK-suhn) (for instance, Aleve)
If these medicines don't relieve your pain or the pain interferes with work or school, you should see a doctor. Treatment depends on what's causing the problem and how severe it is.
Abnormal uterine bleeding
Abnormal uterine bleeding is vaginal bleeding that's different from normal menstrual periods. It includes:
- Bleeding between periods
- Bleeding after sex
- Spotting anytime in the menstrual cycle
- Bleeding heavier or for more days than normal
- Bleeding after menopause
Abnormal bleeding can have many causes. Your doctor may start by checking for problems that are most common in your age group. Some of them are not serious and are easy to treat. Others can be more serious. Treatment for abnormal bleeding depends on the cause.
In both teens and women nearing menopause, hormonal changes can cause long periods along with irregular cycles. Even if the cause is hormonal changes, you may be able to get treatment. You should keep in mind that these changes can occur with other serious health problems, such as uterine fibroids, polyps, or even cancer. See your doctor if you have any abnormal bleeding.