Menstrual disorders: how to manage them?

There are a number of menstrual disorders that can affect you in your daily life: Elia gives you some explanations and advice to help you identify them.

What are menstrual disorders?

Menstrual disorders are conditions with symptoms of varying severity that differ from a "normal" menstrual cycle, and all menstruating women may experience a menstrual problem in their lifetime. Menstrual disorders may relate to the frequency or intensity of periods, or both. Each problem has its own origin and its own treatment.

What are the different menstrual disorders?

Menstrual disorders are numerous, but they also depend on the individual woman. In fact, it's impossible to predict in advance what problems you'll encounter during your period and your phase of the cycle! To help you better understand menstrual problems, we've broken them down below, one by one.

Painful periods

Painful periods or dysmenorrhea are pains that appear shortly before, during or 2-3 days after menstruation. This problem can occur as early as the first menstrual period in adolescence (primary dysmenorrhea), or later, after several cycles (secondary dysmenorrhea).

Pain is generally localized in the lower abdomen and pelvis. It may also be accompanied by headaches, nausea or vomiting, and a general state of fatigue.

Painful periods are first and foremost a problem of pain expression, which may be due to an identifiable menstrual disorder such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, a poorly tolerated intrauterine device (IUD)... Half of all women, however, will find no identifiable cause for this period problem! Treatment usually consists of painkillers to ease the pain, and further tests to look for a deeper gynaecological problem.

Heavy periods

Heavy periods, or hypermenorrhea, are periods that are abnormally heavy over a prolonged period. It's a menstrual problem frequently reported by menstruating women.

The amount of blood normally evacuated averages 4 tablespoons over a period of 3 to 7 days. However, a woman suffering from this disorder can lose up to 6 tablespoons or more, over a longer period. The main problem associated with heavy blood loss is the notorious iron deficiency.

Anemia during menstruation

For menstruating women, heavy periods are the leading cause of iron deficiency! Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia during menstruation. Anemia generally leaves the body feeling very tired. It's very common to feel out of breath at the slightest effort, lose your appetite, develop headaches and dizziness, experience mood disorders... We generally think of a state of physical or psychological fatigue before considering the possibility ofanaemia, as the latter is relatively silent! It is therefore important to monitor your menstrual flow and to remain vigilant in the face of excessive blood loss, in order to identify the possibility of anaemia, and if necessary to have a blood test prescribed by your GP. You can then take supplements and adopt an iron-rich diet.

Hormonal changes

Hormones govern all bodily mechanisms, and are known to influence the reproductive cycle, sexual function, weight gain or loss, mood, stress, etc. Hormone levels during menstruation change naturally before and after ovulation, but excessive variations outside the norm constitute hormonal dysregulation of the menstrual cycle. This disorder can amplify the classic symptoms of premenstrual syndrome. It can also be the cause of other conditions:

  • Mycosis during menstruation, i.e. the development of a fungus in the vaginal mucosa and vulva, called Candida Albicans ;
  • Itching before, during or after the period. More than just a daily inconvenience, itching is generally linked to an infection or inflammation of the mucosa.

It's possible to have a hormonal check-up, including estrogen and progesterone levels, to find out more about your state of health.

Other menstrual disorders

Other menstrual problems can affect your menstrual cycle. We've already talked abouthypermenorrhea, but its opposite also exists:hypomenorrhea, i.e. scanty periods over a normal cycle length. When the cycle is very long (over 35 days), it's calledoligomenorrhea. When periods are completely absent, on the other hand, it's calledamenorrhea. Periods that return too regularly due to a very short menstrual cycle (less than 25 days) are called polymenorrhea. Bleeding outside the menstrual cycle is called metrorrhagia. These symptoms should alert you to the need to manage your menstrual disorder!

What causes menstrual problems?

Menstrual disorders, from puberty to the menopause, can be caused by hormonal imbalances, stress, excessive weight gain or loss, but also by deeper gynecological conditions such as endometriosis, inflammation of the uterus or ovaries, contraceptives, unsuitable sanitary protection that can cause toxic shock... Your symptoms should therefore alert you and lead you to consult your GP for a check-up.

Is it normal to have blood clots during my period?

The presence of a blood clot during your period is not in itself cause for concern: it's simply a matter of blood cells that have coagulated and formed a viscous mass. This phenomenon is also more frequent in the morning, after a long nocturnal stretch, as the blood has more time to coagulate. The presence of clots should alert you to other symptoms, such as unpleasant periods, fatigue, anaemia...

What to do if you suffer from menstrual disorders?

The first thing to do is keep a diary to record your symptoms and the intensity and frequency of your periods. You should then make an appointment with a health professional to retrace them and consider further examinations and tests in the event of a more serious illness. A clinical gynecological examination may be supplemented by blood or hormone laboratory tests, a Pap smear, X-rays or even a hysteroscopy (examination of the uterus), depending on the menstrual disorder.

FAQs on menstrual disorders

What are menstrual disorders?

Menstrual disorders include any excessive variations in menstrual frequency and/orintensity. Irregular periods can include excessive blood loss (hypermenorrhea), scanty periods (hypomenorrhea), painful periods (dysmenorrhea) or periods outside the menstrual period (metrorrhagia).

How can irregular periods be treated?

To treat menstrual disorders, it's important to keep a small logbook to record your symptoms: this will make it easier for your GP or gynecologist to identify your problem. He or she can then refer you for further tests, such as an in-depth gynecological examination of the uterine cavity, or blood and hormone tests. This will help identify the menstrual disorder or illness you're suffering from, so you can treat it effectively.

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