If your period has been very regular your whole life, you’ll immediately notice when it changes.
My friend Lucy used to get her period every 28 days until she entered perimenopause. She was 37 when she started experiencing symptoms such as mood swings and anxiety. In a short space of time, a lock of Lucy’s hair turned white. She started to experience insomnia; she was getting headaches and tension in her throat. She got her thyroid checked, but her hormone levels were normal. Her menstrual cycle became shorter, 22-23 days. These were the first signs of her perimenopause. Her symptoms were on and off and she was feeling generally okay.
Just before she turned 50, she started experiencing heavy bleeding which lasted a few weeks each time. That continued for a while and in her last 4-5 months she experienced the most intense bleeding. And then it all ended unexpectedly. I remember how relieved she felt when this nightmare was over.
Her story is just an example of how irregular periods feel. Everyone experiences them differently.
How do you classify your menstrual cycle as irregular?
You have irregular periods if the length of your menstrual cycle keeps changing. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, however, it’s normal for it to be a bit shorter or longer than this.
A fluctuation of a few days is normal, but if you have a persistent change of 7+ days in the length of your period, you may be in early perimenopause. If there are 60+ days between periods, you’re likely in late perimenopause. It’s important to consult a doctor as prolonged bleeding might lead to anaemia.
Signs that your period is changing and you’re likely entering perimenopause:
Here are some of the main symptoms:
- Irregular period
- Heavy bleeding
- Dark blood
- Short/long cycles
- Missed cycles
Perimenopause – when should you expect it and can you get tested for it?
The average age for perimenopause is 45-50, but of course, as we’ve heard from our readers’ stories, this can happen much earlier. You can’t predict the age when perimenopause will occur, but you’ll start to experience the symptoms and they will guide you. You’d typically go through perimenopause in two phases:
- More frequent menstrual cycles
- Unpredictable menstrual cycles
- Heavier or lighter bleeding
- Hot flushes or mood changes
- Less frequent menstrual periods
- Heavier or lighter bleeding
There is no easy/accurate way to get tested for perimenopause. The blood tests that measure your ovarian reserve aren’t completely reliable during perimenopause. They measure FSH and estrogenic change during the day and these fluctuate.
What would give you a better answer is a simpler tool: a journal. You can include notes about abnormal bleeding, pain or discomfort and see how frequently these happen.
Tips to make your life easier:
- Wear dark underwear – that way you’ll reduce the risk of stained clothing
- Have pads and tampons in your bag just in case – that way you’ll avoid any unwelcome surprises
- Drink plenty of water – water is universal medicine; it makes each menopause symptom more manageable
- Take care of your sleep – having an unpredictable period is stressful but when you are well-rested, that will definitely make you feel better
Note: irregular period might have other underlying causes
Even though perimenopause is often associated with periods that become more chaotic and unpredictable, there are other potential causes: benign polyps, endometrial atrophy and endometrial hyperplasia. Make sure you speak with your GP and have regular check-ups to be completely sure what the cause is.
Like with every other perimenopause symptom, it’s all unusual at first, but what’s happening is a natural process. You’ll feel lighter in the end! Keep going and don’t let the irregular bleeding stop you from enjoying your life!