Periods tell you more than whether or not you’re pregnant. But what exactly can Aunt Flo tell you about your overall wellbeing? The color, frequency, and even flow of your menstrual cycle can reveal an excess of information about your health. Decode your health by looking for these things the next time you get your period.
Wonder why you experience menstrual cramps during your period? Caused by the shedding of your uterine lining, the pain results from excessive amounts of prostaglandin – a hormone involved with pain and inflammation. While experiencing cramps may seem like a rite of passage (over 50% of women deal with them), severe cramps may indicate a larger health issue. If experiencing severe, disabling cramps in the lower abdomen, women may be dealing with endometriosis or other hormone imbalances. Endometriosis is a disorder caused by uterine tissue growing outside the uterus, usually in the pelvic area. As the tissue begins to shed away, the blood has nowhere to go, causing extreme disabling pain. Between 7-10% of women suffer from endometriosis. If you experience severe cramps during your period, it may be best to visit your health practitioner to identify the cause of your pain.
Color of Your Period
Knowing the color of your period can reveal a lot about your hormonal health. During the four-week cycle, your hormones are continuously changing and can affect the color and consistency of your period. Do you experience brown spotty stains at the start of your cycle? The brown coloration is old oxidized blood that didn’t make it out of your uterus last cycle. This is caused by low levels of the hormone progesterone. Holistic health counselor and functional nutritionist Alissa Vitti states that women will experience one of three color patterns during their period:
- Frozen Mashed Up Blueberries – For periods that appear a “frozen blueberry” texture or color, estrogen levels may be too high. The lining of the uterus may thicken with too much estrogen. This is typically seen in heavier periods.
- Strawberry Jam – If a lighter color like a light pink or strawberry jam, your estrogen levels may be too low.
- Cranberry Juice – Periods that appear a saturated red color, like cranberry juice, are considered “normal.” These periods tend to start and end on time.
Flow of Your Period
Admit it. In the past, you’ve wished to never have your period again or at least for it to be very light and non-painful. However, as much as we wish for a different type of flow, our periods, whether very light or heavy may be an indicator of other health issues. On average, women only release about a cup of blood during their period. Women who experience very heavy bleeding have higher estrogen levels and could be dealing with endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts, or polyps. Women who experience a lighter flow could be experiencing hormonal changes, poor nutrition, or stress. Lighter periods are seen in women with low estrogen levels who use a hormonal birth control method. Abnormally light periods may be an indicator of an autoimmune disorder, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or Asherman’s syndrome.
Frequency of Your Period
How often do you get your period and when do you usually expect it? The frequency of your menstrual cycle is a good indicator of your health. As you age, menstrual cycles shorten and become more regular with menstrual flow occurring every 21-35 days and lasting two to seven days. While it’s normal for women to experience irregular periods from time to time, experiencing them past your teens may be an indicator of some other health issue. Irregular periods may be brought on by excessive drinking, extreme weight loss, pregnancy, stress or the use of drugs to treat other medical conditions. It’s best to consult with your health practitioner to identify the cause of your period’s irregularity.
Bleeding After Your Period
Experiencing breakthrough bleeding following your period is not only annoying but an indicator that something larger may be wrong. While light bleeding and spotting after your period is normal for women who take birth control pills, it may indicate a much larger health risk for women who don’t. Medline Plus suggests that vaginal bleeding could be due to vaginal infection, a hormonal imbalance, polyp or even cancer or precancer. In any case, if you experience bleeding after your period but are not on a hormonal birth control method, it is best to follow up with a medical professional to evaluate the cause.
Absence of Your Period
Missing your period doesn’t always mean you’re pregnant. This condition, called secondary amenorrhea, occurs in about 4% of the population and is classified as when a woman who has had normal menstrual cycles stops getting her periods for six or more months. This often occurs to women who take hormonal birth control methods such as birth control pills or hormone shots. Women who are obese, exercise too much and for long periods of time, and have very low body fat are also likely to experience this. Other health causes for this may include brain tumors, an overactive thyroid gland or a reduced function of the ovaries.
If you’re missing your period and not pregnant, please consult your health practitioner.