Feature Archive

Period Problems: What They Mean and When to See the Doctor

Painful Periods

WebMD Feature

Reviewed By Dr. Jacqueline Brooks

Aug. 22, 2001 -- The Monthly Bill. The Woman's Curse. The Stop Sign.

The nicknames we give to the monthly shedding of the uterus lining reflect the troubles it brings, including spotting, heavy bleeding, and cramping. These symptoms can range from merely inconvenient to downright life-changing, depending on how frequent they are and how severe. So how do you know when to grin and bear it and when to see the doctor?

What's Normal and What's Not

"There are only three times in a woman's life when her periods can be irregular but completely normal," says Jonathan Scher, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City. Those times are after the first period, or menarche; the first few periods after a miscarriage, abortion, or childbirth; and before menopause. During these times, ovulation is not taking place.

If a woman is of reproductive age, any other change in her usual pattern by a week or more either way is abnormal, says Scher. Heavy bleeding, bleeding between periods -- including light "spotting" -- and missing a period should all be reported to a doctor, he advises.

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