Menstrual Pain: When Your Period Signals a Problem (cont.)

"If the endometriosis was found earlier, I might have planned my life better," says the 33-year-old, who urges women with severe menstrual problems to speak up. "If a woman feels like something is really going on (with her body), she should really push her doctor more on it."

Many women experience menstrual problems such as heavy bleeding, severe pain, and irregular cycles. Most of these problems aren't usually serious and most are temporary. However, in some cases the ailments may actually signal problems in the body.

"For a woman, the menstrual cycle is a really good indicator of her overall health status," says Saralyn Mark, MD, senior medical adviser for the Office on Women's Health, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Women with eating disorders may not have periods. "The body senses that it's not a good time to get pregnant," says Mark.

WebMD compiled a list of common menstrual problems, and asked the experts whether they should be causes of concern for women.

But first, it's helpful to know what's considered "normal," and what women could do to help their doctor better pinpoint trouble.

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A regular menstrual cycle means different things to different women. Age, for example can affect what's described as a normal pattern. When adolescents first get their periods, they can expect irregular cycles for a year or two as sex hormones stabilize. The menstrual cycle becomes erratic again around the perimenopause. During this time, just before menopause, ovarian hormone levels begin to fluctuate. Woman again experience irregular cycles.

Yet between adolescence and perimenopause, women can expect to have regular monthly cycles. That is, of course, barring pregnancy, illness, medications, stress, and other problems (such as cysts) that may change the pattern.

It's also not uncommon to have a variation in one month.

Menstruation that occurs between 22 and 40 days apart falls within the norm, says Robert Shenken, MD, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. The first day of the menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of vaginal bleeding.

The pattern, however, should not vary tremendously. "If a woman was having a 40-day cycle, and all of a sudden, she's having a 22-day cycle, that would be a concern," says Shenken. "The cycle links should be within plus or minus five days."

A significant change could be sign of a problem. Many experts interviewed by WebMD, say it's best to observe your periods over a three-month before becoming overly worried.

Menstrual bleeding time or an actual period, is usually two to eight days long, and anything outside of that is a cause of concern, says Shenken.

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