The PERIOD Series: How Do You Know if Your Period Isn’t Normal?

by | Aug 10, 2020 | Uncategorized | 51 comments

3 Signs that Your Periods are Abnormal and You Should See a Doctor
Merchandise is Here!

Sometimes we don’t realize when something about our period is abnormal.

And we may need some help!

On Mondays in August we’re talking about periods, and how that affects our view of our bodies, our health, our sex life, and more. Last week on our podcast on periods Rebecca and I were talking about how we need to be more proactive about seeing the doctor if we fear something is wrong–but the problem is that many of us may not realize when something isn’t normal, because we just don’t talk about it. So I thought today I’d help us with some quick tips (but please remember I’m not a doctor!)

Here’s My “Something’s Wrong” Period Story

For me, It all started when my cycles got out of whack.

At first I blamed it on my daughters. You know how when you have a bunch of women living in one house their bodies tend to adjust to each other and your cycles line up? Well, I was living with teens who weren’t quite “regular” yet, so I thought that’s why I was going all wonky. I didn’t think much of it.

Then the wonkiness wasn’t wonkiness as much as it was frequency. I’d always been a 30-31 day kind of gal, like clockwork. Then I went to 28, which disappointed me, but really was nothing to complain about.

21 days, on the other hand, is ABSOLUTELY RIDICULOUS!!!! And having to sleep on top of a towel, and not go out for more than 2 hours during “that time of the month” in case Niagara Falls hits, was really frustrating.

But it’s not just that life wasn’t fair. It’s that my body decided it’d had enough, and then it decided not to make any more red blood cells, because really, what’s the point? I was losing them too fast anyway. My body figured it may as well kick its feet up and grab a cold one and take the day off.

So my body took a whole bunch of days off, and one day I wake up and I was so TIRED I felt like you do during the first trimester of pregnancy. But I couldn’t figure out the reason, so I pushed ahead, and pushed ahead, and pushed ahead, until one day I came back from a speaking engagement and flying all over the country and I just lost it. I cried uncontrollably because life was just so OVERWHELMING and I couldn’t do it anymore.

(here I am right before that breakdown, at the MOPS convention in 2013. I gave this talk with the worst migraine of my life).

Sheila speaking at MomCon

Eventually I decided maybe a visit to the doctor may be in order, and lo and behold, I had major anemia. Yay! I wasn’t going crazy.

So I took iron supplements for a few months, and I was happily contented (though constipated) because soon this would all be over. I went for another checkup, and–WHAM!–I was even more anemic than before.

My doctor was now  worried, and sent me for an ultrasound and a specialist, and the specialist says, “Okie dokie. You’ve got fibroids. Let’s book you in for an ablation and you’ll be good as new.”

And so I went in for surgery, and behold–I was actually as good as new.

Better even! My periods were lighter, when they came at all. My iron levels came back up. My mood improved.

And I wondered–why didn’t I get help sooner?

Maybe you have a similar one.

But the big thing I learned was that I lived through a lot of agony for a long time because I didn’t realize that what I was experiencing was abnormal. I knew that women often got worse in their 40s. I knew that people often bled a lot. And so I just assumed I had to put up with it.

As Rebecca and I were talking about on the podcast last week, because we don’t talk to friends about periods that much, we sometimes don’t notice when things aren’t normal.

​What is a normal period?

Normal periods:

  • Last between 2-7 days
  • Come between 21-35 days (although if I were on the extremes of either of those numbers I would talk to a physician about it).
  • Contain between 2-3 tablespoons of blood (although it seems like a lot more, honestly!).

It’s normal to feel some cramping, especially on the first day, that may require some Advil to touch it.

It’s normal, especially in the teen years, for periods to be irregular or heavier.

And it is normal for periods to get lighter as you age, and to start skipping periods as you enter into your 40s.

Problems with periods are very common–and center around three things: The amount flow; Pain; and Timing.

1. When your flow is heavier or lighter than normal

What constitutes a heavy flow? If you need to double up on pads and tampons (like use both at the same time), and you need to change them every 1-3 hours or you’ll leak, or if you leak at night, that’s abnormal.

And if you notice that your period is heavier than it used to be, that’s a sign that something could be happening. Maybe you used to be able to go to sleep with just a pad, but now you need a pad and a tampon. Or you need a much bigger pad.

Heavy periods could be a sign of:

  • uterine fibroids;
  • polyps;
  • hormonal imbalances;
  • endometriosis
  • some bleeding disorders
  • some cancers (don’t worry; that’s rare!)

and lots of other things. And sometimes they don’t have an underlying cause, but even so–bleeding that much can cause anemia (low iron) which does need to be treated.

And what if your flow is very light? That can also be a problem, especially if you are underweight. When we volunteered at a children’s home in Kenya, we learned that many of the girls, after being at the home for a few months, thought they were very ill because their periods suddenly got heavier. When they were living in very poor conditions with little nutrition, their periods were very light. Once they received proper nutrition, their periods got to be normal (which they thought was heavy).

Light periods can also be a sign of a hormonal problem, too, but usually they’re not as serious as heavy periods. And remember–usually periods get lighter with age! If they get heavier (like mine did), then it’s likely a sign that something else is going on.

2. When your periods are very painful

Sometimes pain occurs at ovulation, often caused by ovarian cysts, and sometimes cramping is so bad during your period that you break out in cold sweats, vomit, get migraines, or just feel like you can’t move.

One person left this comment last week:

 I finally worked up the courage to see a gynecologist at 20. I had never been, and as an unmarried virgin, from a conservative background, I was mortified. But my periods had always been debilitating, and it was seriously interfering with college. She said “honey, you have cramps. Take some ibuprofen.” So I cried some, and soldiered on.

Several months later, in grad school, my mom convinced me to come home, saying she’d found a doctor for me. I was non functional by then. He took a look at my ultrasound and said “they told you this was normal? Only two things cause this much fluid in a pelvis and abdomen. Ovarian cancer, and advanced endometriosis. They call ovarian cancer the silent killer for a reason, so we have cause to hope it’s endometriosis.” I was in surgery later that week. The endometriosis was everywhere.

My husband and I have four miracle children, but at only 36, I’ve now had a hysterectomy and my fallopian tubes and an ovary removed, because after our last, the debilitating periods and endometriosis returned, this time involving my colon as well.

Women are often told that pain is just normal with periods, and we should just suck it up.

And often we’re told that by physicians, even female ones.

To a certain extent, cramps are normal. Especially in your teens, that first day of a period is often quite uncomfortable.

However, being so in pain that you can’t function, or having migraines or vomiting is not just normal, and may be a sign that something else is going on.

If you talk to your doctor, and they just tell you to take Advil, insist on doing a workup if you think this isn’t normal. Track your cycles for a few months and write down how many pads/tampons you go through; how much pain you have on a scale of 1-10, as well as whether you’re able to get out of bed or function or eat. Make note if Advil even touches the pain. And go to see your doctor armed with evidence that something isn’t right.

Endometriosis is a serious condition that impacts our fertility and so much more. And yet often it’s missed in the early days when something could be done about it, because physicians assume that everyone just has pain. So keep track!

What about pain with tampons or sex?

Okay, this one isn’t related to periods per se, but it often shows up first with periods.

If you find that trying to insert tampons is just so painful you can’t do it, even small ones, it’s worth seeing a doctor. It could be a sign of either a thick hymen which needs to be surgically removed before marriage, or vaginismus, an involuntary clenching of the vaginal muscles, which can usually be resolved with pelvic floor physiotherapy. 

If inserting tampons is painful, chances are sex once you’re married will be, too. And it’s good to try to figure out the cause!

3. When the time between periods is too long or too short (or they never end!)

Remember the story in the Bible of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, who touched Jesus’ cloak and was healed?

Well, lots of women can relate to her! Their periods come constantly, or they last a long time. They bleed for 15 days instead of the normal 2-7. Some women go 60 days between periods, but then when they do bleed, it’s for a long time. If you find that you go too long (or too short) between periods, or if your periods are super short or super long, please see a physician.

Remember, too, that if you NEVER get your period, that’s also a problem. It may seem awesome, and you may not want to fuss about it, but it isn’t normal or healthy, and it could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance, or even an eating disorder.

What else can help us regulate our periods?

Our hormones regulate our periods, and our hormones are highly sensitive to our diet, our health, our anxiety level, even our sleep cycles. The more that you can go to sleep and get up at the same time everyday (even on weekends!); limit processed foods and processed sugars; eat whole foods; limit alcohol and caffeine and meats with high levels of hormones; the more that you can help your body regulate itself.

Exercise, too, often reduces cramps and helps us deal with pain! Rebecca found when she started eating better and started exercising and taking Highland Dancing that her periods became much more manageable and much less painful.

It isn’t always, then, that you need medical intervention. Sometimes you can help your body yourself. But I still think talking to a physician when something is off is important, to ensure there’s not a serious underlying condition.

When your periods are not working as they should, it’s a signal from your body that something needs to be attended to.

Maybe you need to actually INCREASE your eating and your nutrition so that your periods become more regular and take on a normal flow. Maybe you need to improve your health habits so that the flow regulates and becomes more manageable. And maybe you need to see a doctor because there is something serious going on.

I wish I had seen a doctor about three years before I finally did, because I could have saved myself a lot of frustration and fatigue. And after the ablation (an operation they do now instead of a hysterectomy which “burns” the inside of your uterus and removes fibroids, so that bleeding is lighter), my life really changed!

I know there’s a lot more wisdom about this collectively on YOUR side of the keyboard than mine, though, so I’m going to stop there and turn us over to the comments, because you all likely have some helpful things to add.

Let’s talk about:

  • How you learned that you had an underlying condition that may be dangerous, and what they did about it
  • What you did to have physicians take you seriously
  • LIfestyle changes you made to make your periods easier and less painful

Or anything else! Let’s help each other.

 

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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51 Comments

  1. Bethany Persons

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention PCOS. Especially for young women, it effects so many things related to our appearance and feeling good about ourselves, like weight gain and skin problems. It also involves irregular cycles, and can cause fertility problems later in life. Sometimes doctors prescribe birth control, but that only masks the symptoms and doesn’t treat the underlying cause. Sometimes it is linked to diabetes, so medication can help balance hormones, leading to weight loss and other issues get better too. Sometimes exercise can help. But sometimes nothing does, but at least if you know what’s going on, it can give you some peace of mind.
    I have never been formally diagnosed, as I only have some of the symptoms. The biggest one for me is the irregular period, and I mentioned it to several doctors as a teen and young adult. They all said if I wasn’t experiencing other issues that it wasn’t a problem. Well, when I got married I got on the pill for a couple of years, and when I got off to have children, my period just didn’t come back. I went six months without ovulating! We tried clomid and it worked for kids 1 and 2, and then my body figured out how to do this, so we got surprised by 3 and 4.
    Now kid #4 is almost 1, and I’ve had 3 periods on an 8 week cycle so far. Considering my experience before, and that we’re done having kids, I’m planning to just leave it alone. Overall things have worked out well for me, even though it was rough there for a bit when we first started having kids. But I do wish someone had tried to help me figure out what was going on sooner rather than later.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      Sounds like a similar story to mine, except I never went on birth control. Functional medicine was the only thing that gave me answers on how to address my PCOS. Not that this comments section is meant to be an advice section or that your health issues are the same as mine, but meeting with a doctor who practiced functional medicine really gave me a lot of answers. I’d highly recommend to any women with hormonal imbalances or really any health issues in general. Looking at the body as a holistic being is really essential imo, instead of just a series of separate systems that different specialists need to help you with.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I was counting PCOS as “hormonal imbalance”. It’s one of the most common, though not the only one. And, yes, I know a lot of women who have had trouble conceiving because of PCOS. And I also know one woman with PCOS who is skinny as a rail. So it definitely doesn’t look the same in everyone!

      Reply
  2. Kathryn

    When I was a teenager I had horrible pain during my periods. I would throw up every time and the pain in my stomach was so bad I just curled up in fetal position and groaned. So after some time my parents got some magnesium supplements for me and after taking those, it was like night and day difference I was able to go about my days as if I wasn’t on my period.
    I definitely agree with doing exercise’s. It helps me stay regular, and have less pain during my periods.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I know magnesium helps a LOT for cramps, especially in younger women. I’ve heard other women say the same thing.

      Reply
  3. Charissa

    I’m in an endometriosis support group, and on average it takes women 8-10 years to get a diagnosis 😳. It’s honestly easier for men to get help with erectile dysfunction than for doctors to take women’s period pain seriously. One of the things they mention in the group is asking doctors to document when they refuse treatment. If you’re sure something is wrong, the combination of bringing your documentation like Sheila suggested and then asking the doctor – “I would like you to document that you said this was normal and refused treatment” – often gets a pretty quick response. Many doctors are more responsive than that – but some are not. And because everyone has *some* period pain, it can be easier for doctors to minimize symptoms. So if you’re having trouble getting a doctor to take you seriously, many women in the group have found that to be a useful tool. I was definitely in the slow burn camp and didn’t realize what I was experiencing wasn’t normal for too long – so thanks for talking about this, Sheila ❤️

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Charissa, I love that idea! Wow. That’s awesome. And isn’t that awful that it takes 8-10 years on average? By that time the damage can be so extensive. Wow.

      Reply
  4. Meghan

    Another woman with PCOS chiming in. I hit puberty at age 11 and wasn’t diagnosed until age 21. It took another 5 years to get treatment other than birth control, which like another commenter said only masks the symptoms and doesn’t really treat the underlying issues.
    The woman who helped me the most was actually a chiropractor. She ordered a blood allergy test and recommended an elimination diet of anything that had a reaction (about 30 things!!!). How that worked was I avoided anything on the list for 3 months, then slowly started re-introducing the trigger foods and carefully monitored my body for any reactions. Ended up with only 3 things on the permanent no-no list: cow casein, cane sugar, and chicken eggs.
    I kid you not, only one month in to that treatment plan and I was a new woman. I actually said “is this what it feels like to be normal?! You’re telling me people DON’T live with a low level of everyday pain!?!?!?” Turns out my diet was messing with my hormones all along and I never knew.
    I also changed gynecologists and found one that was more open to alternative treatment plans. He prescribed me some progesterone to take at certain points in my cycle, which helped a lot. I don’t need it any more, though, because after childbirth my hormones are actually in a normal range without medication! WOOO! Still had to keep the dietary changes, but they’re worth it.
    Like Rebecca, I also noticed that exercise helps with cramps. I still feel pretty crummy on the first day of my cycle, but if I force myself to take a walk I always feel better. Don’t even need pain medication any more. Thanks exercise!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s great that you discovered all of that, Meghan! It’s nice to feel as if you have a certain level of control over it, too. Way to go!

      Reply
  5. WS

    Thank you so much for this xx
    I used to have very bad period pain, painful ovulation and hormonal migraines. I thought I ate healthy because I ate 3 good meals a day, but I ate so much junk food and carb heavy meals that I’d have to eat frequently or my blood sugar would crash. My health overall deteriorated greatly and was losing weight too rapidly, a dietitian I saw put me on a similar diet to paleo and I went virtually sugar free (except honey and fruit). It greatly improved my overall health but also cured the hormonal migraines and made periods more comfortable. It’s still not perfect, as I have mild endometriosis, but so much more manageable because I’m getting adequate nutrients instead of sugar overload and my hormones are steadier. I usually just need to take day 1 and 2 easy. 🙂

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I’ve known a lot of women who helped endometriosis by massively changing their diet. Not saying that it cures it, but it can make it far less painful and it can stop it from advancing in some people.

      Reply
  6. B

    I’m frustrated and saddened because I think my hormone levels are off and that’s a big reason why I feel sluggish the majority of the time, and why I have early spotting 5-7 days before my actual period and I haven’t ever gotten pregnant. I really believe implantation cannot happen because my lining is shedding too early. But my actual period is regular so most of the time I’ve been taken for someone who doesn’t have a real problem.
    I have a doctor helping me now but I feel like the spotting is still getting overlooked because my blood tests (progesterone) show up in a normal range. I mention this early spotting nearly every visit. I want answers but I know when/if the answers come I will grieve the years I suffered physically, mentally and emotionally. The amount of days in a month something is coming out of me, even if it’s super light is so discouraging and impractical too. It haunts me because it’s been a long time issue for me and I haven’t been able to conceive and doctors have told me not to stress and consider my cycle perfectly normal.

    Reply
  7. Amanda

    This is another good reason to not take hormonal birth control. It may mask or inflame conditions – your cycle tells you a lot about how your body is doing!

    Reply
    • Anonymous

      I wouldn’t agree with this one. Taking hormonal birth control is a very personal decision that should be made in consultation with a trusted medical provider. I’ve had very painful cramps for my whole adult life. I got a mirena IUD a few years ago and now I no longer have periods. It’s been such a relief not to deal with pain and bleeding every month. I always thought it would be strange not to have a period but it’s been a great experience. If I had known, I would have gotten an IUD years earlier. So different women have different experiences and each women should make the decision that is right for her after discussion with her doctor.

      Reply
      • B

        I consistently start spotting 5-7 days before my actual period and I’m convinced this is a big reason why I’ve never been able to conceive. I’m not sure how implantation can happen when my lining starts shedding too early; at the same time I’m not an educated health professional, but it’s been a big question mark in my mind.
        Because my actual period is regular and my hormone blood tests have fallen in a normal range, most doctors have not had an answers for me or pursued the problem.
        Every time the early spotting begins, it’s a nagging reminder that I’m not pregnant and frustrating having something come out of me for so many days in a month.
        I have a doctor now who is actively trying to figure out why I’m not getting pregnant but I still feel this early spotting issue is getting overlooked. I know that if the answers ever come, I have years of this issue that I will need to grieve and accept and deal with my question of why it was never more of a concern to my doctors. I’ve brought up my issues a very long time ago only to be told not to stress so much.

        Reply
        • B

          Sorry Anonymous, I think I accidentally commented as a reply to yours but meant to have it as it’s own comment.

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, B, I’m sorry. That’s really difficult. I’ve said a prayer for you that they’ll get to the root of the infertility.

          Reply
      • Emma

        I’d like to chime in and say that I agree with Anonymous. I was recently diagnosed with PCOS, but instead of having long times between periods, I was bleeding for at least six weeks at a time and getting a week or two off. I chose to go on birth control because my husband and I are waiting to have kids.
        Yeah, it may just mask the symptoms, but it’s better than having a never ending period that is leading to me slowly bleeding to death (my iron levels were bad enough they were considering a blood transfusion if they didn’t rise quickly enough). And, because my hormones are already so messed up naturally, I have experienced 0 side effects! Additionally, my sex drive is higher (mostly due to not bleeding all the time), and I finally feel like I am not at the mercy of my body for the first time since I was 13-14.
        In short, hormonal birth control may cause tons of problems for one woman, but may also be a salvation to another.

        Reply
        • Natalie

          And here’s my two cents: perhaps a better option would be to figure out the root cause of why one is having abnormal periods. I too never went on birth control even though it was offered to me throughout my growing up years due to my PCOS symptoms. However, I also never saw a doctor other than a gynecologist, so I just had to deal with the suffering (would NOT recommend). It wasn’t till we were trying to conceive and having about a year of difficulty that I sought out the help of a doctor who didn’t just specialise in one part of the body but ran SO many tests and eventually got to the root of my issue: PCOS / hormonal imbalance caused by insulin resistance / “pre pre-diabetes”. From there, he gave me a plan of action to take to address my issues. I did, and once the root issue was addressed, everything else fell into place. Birth control has a place if you’re looking for immediate results. But if you want to fix things for good, it’ll take time to figure out what your exact issues are. Imo, it’s worth the effort for your long-term health’s sake.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s amazing, Natalie. I’m glad you’ve had such great success when you’re relatively young!

          • Anon

            Natalie, I agree that if you can figure out what is causing the abnormalities and fix them, that is a much better solution. But the sad fact is that for many women, there IS no other solution. And I’m speaking as someone who tried every diet, supplement, gadget and exercise programme there was in an attempt to fix my problem! Somtimes, hormone supplements are the only thing that works.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, I totally agree. When you’re bleeding almost non-stop, it can be an absolute godsend.

          Reply
  8. Anon

    Our health service has recently published online advice on when a period is abnormal – needing to change protection every 2-3 hours, doubling up on protection, leaking at night, regularly passing large clots, periods lasting longer than 7 days or pain that interferes with ‘daily life’.
    I spent 17 years changing towels every 1-2 hours, passing HUGE clots (2-3 inches across), sleeping on a bin liner/towel combo so I didn’t stain the mattress, and organizing my life around my period (which was never shorter than 10 days duration). In those 17 years, I saw at least 7 doctors and was pretty much constantly on iron supplements, but not one of them every said ‘this is abnormal; we need to check out what’s wrong’! I am so grateful to the doctor who finally picked up on it, but I do sometimes wonder what my teens and 20s could have been like if all those previous doctors hadn’t dismissed my concerns.
    Girls, if it’s affecting your life, GET IT CHECKED OUT! And if you get brushed off, keep hassling until you get somewhere – the squeaky wheel gets the grease! So wish I had ‘squeaked’ a little more.

    Reply
    • E

      Do you think it’s abnormal to have an insanely heavy flow (huge clots like you’re talking about), but only is like that for half a day to a day and then I can wear a panty liner for a day or two? Mine is so short so that’s nice, but I never was heavy until a few years ago (35). I never even had to use tampons until I was 35.

      Reply
      • Anon

        E, I’d say it’s worth raising with your doctor, especially if it’s a recent thing. There is a possibility you might be in the early stages of perimenopause, when periods can start fluctuating (and it’s common for them to get heavier before getting lighter), but any change in what’s ‘normal’ for you should always be checked out.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Amen, Anon! Squeak squeak squeak. It’s sad, but we really have to be squeaky.

      Reply
    • Anitra

      Anon,
      I started my period at age 11 and (except when pregnant/breastfeeding) have ALWAYS had really heavy periods, usually accompanied by severe cramping. (I relate to the “sleeping on a towel” – I did that a lot until I was able to figure out how to use double protection.)
      I didn’t even realize that this is not normal until last year… because it is MY normal. I didn’t know that most teenage girls don’t need iron supplements. It didn’t really occur to me that my highschool friends weren’t missing a day or two of school EVERY month like I was.
      When I started trying a menstrual cup, I finally realized (because I had to empty it every hour or two, when online most women said it “lasts all day!”) that I should get this checked out.
      But now it’s tough to see a doctor for anything non-urgent, so I’ve been holding off… and now my 11-year-old daughter has started her period and has the same heavy flow as I do. So I guess we’ll try a two-pronged approach, talking to both my OB/GYN and her pediatrician.

      Reply
  9. Brooke

    For sure get it checked out! My periods went from 35 days like clockwork to swinging from 28, 35, 28, 35…and so on. Then they got even more irregular. Turns out I had a tumor on my ovary, and it was cancerous. Thankfully, it was contained even though it was a whopping 6 or 7 lbs when it got taken out and further treatment after surgery was not needed. Don’t wait! Ovarian cancer is quite serious if left very long, and I was only 34!

    Reply
  10. Stephanie

    Can we add adenomyosis to the list? Endometriosis has been getting more recognition lately, but women need to know about adenomyosis too. Adenomyosis is where the inner lining of the uterus breaks through the muscle wall of the uterus. After suffering for nearly two decades, I finally saw a surgeon two weeks ago who did a transvaginal ultrasound and diagnosed me with endometriosis *and* adenomyosis. She said it looked like the adenomyosis is covering the whole right side of my uterus.
    And for your US readers especially…. can we talk about the cost of getting adequate care for gynecologic issues (everything from vaginismus to infertility). My surgeon looked at me like I had two heads when I commented this was my first ultrasound, and asked why I didn’t have one when we were looking into why I couldn’t get pregnant back in 2009. I had to tell her we simply couldn’t afford it, we were paying off debt, I wasn’t working (due to pain & self esteem issues), and my husband was making barely more than minimum wage. We have a unique situation now, where we’re actually able to get a health care sharing ministry to cover my hysterectomy even though it’s clearly a pre-existing condition, but we’re literally going to have to drain our emergency fund to pay for it, and then wait for reimbursements to come in. 🙁
    The pain has gotten so bad, that I’m finally booking off a week out of every five, just so I can rest, and not having to take toradol. Looking forward to my hysterectomy in October.

    Reply
    • Emma

      I know someone who has/had that! She ended up getting a hysterectomy at 21, but last I heard she felt so free, no longer being in pain!

      Reply
    • Cynthia

      It finally occurred to me that my heavy periods were t normal when I started to use a Diva Cup, because you can actually measure flow and the insert said that the total period should only be an ounce or two. Mine was close to 8. Got investigated for everything and it turned out to be adenomyosis. The least invasive treatment was a Mirena IUD, which has fixed the problem without needing surgery. Ablation was a possibility but it doesn’t always work for adenomyosis and pin can get worse.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        8 ounces?!? Oh, dear. You must have been so anemic! I’m glad you got help. And, yes, I never thought of that side benefit of the cup, but that is a big one. I’ll put that in our post we’re doing on Diva cups!

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Stephanie! What a lot to live with. I’m so sorry. And, yes, I can’t imagine having to try to save money for all of this at the same time. That’s such a stress when you’re already not well.

      Reply
      • Stephanie

        Actually, Sheila, the whole impossibility of the situation is probably what has kept me trusting God that everything is going to work out. Every since my hubby quit his job in March, Got has been providing for our needs in extraordinary ways. Sure, it’s scary that our savings is going to be drained over night, and stay that way for a few months, but over the last few months, God has proven (again) that He is faithful and watching over us. So, I’m finding refuge in that and choosing to trust that he has everything under control. 🙂

        Reply
  11. Emma

    Alrighty, here’s my story:
    I have atypical PCOS, meaning that I technically have the symptoms, though not the expected manifestations. I have the high androgens, but still have fairly clear skin and very little excess hair; I’m not overweight; and rather than non-existent periods, I was bleeding steadily for 6 weeks at a time and getting a week or two off when it was at it’s worst.
    I had been having menstrual issues since I was about 13 (got my first period at 11), except for a couple years between 18-20 when things normalized for a while. I was checked for ovarian cysts at 14, but I’m guessing I was young enough that the cysts hadn’t started appearing.
    After avoiding the doctor for a while, I went in because I was so anemic it was affecting my heart rate. Saw a PA, she recommended me to a gynecologist. As soon as the OB/GYN walked in, she said “you have PCOS.” Just like that. After 10 years, it turned out to be a matter of going to the right person, who could put the pieces together.

    Reply
    • Emma

      To clarify: when the OB/GYN saw me, she had already looked through my medical information, which included a hormone test done previously.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Sometimes you do just have to be persistent, because not all doctors get it immediately. I wish it were easier!

      Reply
  12. Lyndall Cave

    A tip: Don’t eat dairy on the first couple days of your period, or just before it starts (if you can predict that). Dairy has prostaglandins in it, which makes cramping much worse.
    The only times I’ve ever thrown up on my period or had pain that meant I couldn’t function was when I ate dairy in the first couple days of my period. (Yes. I’ve been blessed with very normal and mild periods.) Red meat also makes it worse for me, especially if it’s eaten WITH dairy. Now I avoid both in the first couple days, and my periods are uncomfortable but not painful.

    Reply
  13. Amy

    I had heavy 10-day cycles every 21 days for years. I even ended up in the emergency room with heavy clotting. My GYN blamed perimenopause (I was 45) but it turned out to be fibroids. She recommended ablation or a hysterectomy.
    Instead, I tried diet. Lo and behold, when I stopped eating dairy my cycles became normal, my skin cleared up of ongoing adult acne, and I felt amazing.
    Any time I have any dairy, I have a cycle within days including breast tenderness and acne. I was only 23 days away from “official” menopause (one year without a cycle) when one nibble on a cheese board threw me into cycle.
    Here’s an informative scientific article about the impact of nutrition on fibroids. It worked for me!
    https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-best-diet-for-fibroids/

    Reply
  14. Anon2

    Your story could be my story except I also had extreme pain during the first two days – so bad that I could hardly sit down at times. And since I had a history of painful periods, 21 day cycles but with a week’s flow, heavy bleeding, PMT, and fibrocystic breast disease and had received little help/sympathy from the medical profession for years, I just thought it was normal and I was complaining too much. During my most fertile years, I was experiencing less than one week a month where I was pain-free and loss-free. Perhaps some doctors are more “on to it” now but I still find that most doctors (even female doctors) are dismissive of period problems where I live. (BTW, my hair had to fall out by the handful before I could get iron supplements for my low iron stores.)

    Reply
  15. Wifey

    I wanted to add that genetics is a big factor too. I’m the 3rd generation to have long cycles- 35-42 days, then 7 days on period. The only issue I’ve run into is that medical professionals don’t know what to do without the standard 28 day cycles. I’ve learned to track my body and knew with both my boys (currently pregnant with our 2nd) 48 hours of when conception occurred. When I told my current provider when my due date was based on conception, she refused to believe me and highly ‘suggested’ I do an early ultrasound (which cost me $135!) to get a more accurate due date. Guess what? According to their measurements I was only 1 day off on my calculations! I get that medical professionals have a wide range of patients who may or may not be recording or giving accurate info, but I’ve written and tracked my cycles ever since I got married, so I have 5 years of practice and data!

    Reply
  16. Rachael

    I think the problem is that there is such a large range of what constitutes a normal period it’s hard for women and even doctors to judge if something’s wrong. I remember begging my mom to stay home from school the first few days of my period because it hurt so bad, especially that first two years after I started. She told me you can’t miss school just because of a period so I skipped my morning classes and curled up in the fetal position on the floor of my home room. Pain meds didn’t help much, luckily it got better as I got older. I was recently diagnosed with PCOS which explains why it was so bad.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Rachael, that’s awful. Yes, I think moms don’t even always understand if they didn’t have it that badly. We really need to listen to our daughters!

      Reply
  17. Natalie

    To answer your question “ LIfestyle changes you made to make your periods easier and less painful”, there is a whole host of wonderful herbs for the female body. My favorite book on the topic is “Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health” by Aviva Romm. I always have some crampbark tincture on hand for cramps (I also used it during my first trimester to discourage miscarriage and calm the uterus), drink red raspberry leaf tea daily no matter the time of month, and have taken vitex supplements periodically with some success. But nothing can fix a broken, toxic diet. I personally eat paleo/low carb and focus on finding the best quality meat, fish and produce I can find. That’s been very successful for me and maintaining my current level of health. Find out hat eating style works for you and your body. It takes some time to figure it out (much like how to orgasm lol), but when you find what works for you, it’s great! 👌🏼
    And since the body is always changing, imo, it’s good to re-address your diet throughout the different stages of your life. What worked for you in your 20s and 30s may not be the case decades later.

    Reply
  18. Ruth

    Another PCOS commenter here. 🙂 I just wanted to pass on a couple resources I’ve found invaluable for figuring out the root causes of my hormone imbalance. One is a book called Woman Code by Alisa Vitti. She’s got a great meal plan to follow to support normal hormone function, and this is one of the primary things that helped regulate my cycles and relieve a lot of PCOS symptoms. Another is Clare Goodwin, the PCOS Nutritionist. She runs a protocol that also helps pinpoint your root cause and make diet and lifestyle changes to help heal your hormones.
    I had PCOS for nearly 15 years before I got a diagnosis, and for the first five years after, I was on birth control. It’s definitely a quick fix, but in the long term, it left me in a much more difficult spot when I was considering marriage and a family. It took some time, but with diet and life style changes, I now have the most normal cycles I’ve had since I was 11, and my doctors don’t think fertility treatments will be necessary when I’m ready to have kids.
    I know these are all very personal decisions, but I can’t say enough about the importance of actually dealing with the root cause of the hormone imbalance you’re experiencing and making changes to support and heal your body, rather than masking them with supplemental hormones like birth control. Without addressing the root cause, PCOS sufferers are far more likely to deal with some more serious health conditions down the line, like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and hypertension. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it.

    Reply
  19. Kim

    At almost 49, my experience overall has been quite reasonable. No cramping, no real pain, mostly just a little nausea and a heavy dull ache on the first couple days. So I was shocked when my two oldest girls began experiencing extreme, doubled over kind of pain! Vomiting, passing out, labor pain intensity! We tried red raspberry leaf with little effect. Also began taking evening primrose oil, and that helps a little. The best help we have found has been lugols iodine. I discovered this accidentally when searching how to heal a hypothyroid issue. But since my last birth at age 44 I’d also been dealing with extremely heavy cycles. I discovered that iodine is not just for thyroids!!! The entire reproductive system needs it and benefits from it! My own experience is that I went from 7 days to four, and bleeding is much more under control. I had my daughters start on iodine, and now the bad months are only 1 in 3 rather than every month. Also the timing has regulated to a more normal schedule as well. I recommend doing a little research first, as iodine affects many things, and too much can be detrimental. (Always take it with selenium). I’m not a doctor but this has worked wonders for my girls and me!

    Reply
  20. Hannah

    Here’s an area where parents can help a lot, because pre-teens/teens don’t really know what’s normal yet. I sometimes have one morning a cycle where it’s bad, but it’s a lot better than it used to be when I was a teenager. I spent several hours curled up on the floor moaning in pain and making myself throw up (which always stopped it cold, for some reason??) just to make the misery go away. But I remember my mom telling me that wasn’t normal, and telling me that if I wanted, we could go see a doctor and get me a low dose of birth control to help regulate it. I was always too scared, and luckily it did eventually get better (after 10ish years, so maybe I should have taken her advice lol), but I’m very grateful that she was knowledgeable and understanding.
    Parents can also help with the squeak-squeak-squeak mentioned above with any doctors giving them a hard time. 😉

    Reply
  21. Megan Foster

    Your story rang so many bells for me, as this was my story, too. The 21-day-cycle, flooding, anaemia… and the pressure to keep pushing on with work despite it. I also had fibroids but in my case, ablation didn’t do the trick and I had to have a full-on hysterectomy, which was complicated thanks to extensive endometriosis. I had put up with really painful periods since I was 13 and I thought that knock-you-over cramps that got so bad they made you throw up were normal.
    It didn’t help that menstruation had been presented by my mother as something shameful that you could never talk about (I couldn’t even talk about it to her) and that you had to keep hidden at all costs, even from other women. Throw in those Bible verses about being unclean… I now can’t believe I suffered in silence for so long. Thank you for addressing this topic and tackling those Old Testament regulations that made me feel less loved by God than men simply because I was a fertile woman (it’s been nearly two years since my operation but I’m still getting teary writing this).
    Isaiah 64:6 and Ezekiel 36:17 (““Son of man, when the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by their own ways and deeds; to Me their way was like the uncleanness of a woman in her customary impurity.”) didn’t help either. Could you address these other verses as well in your blog?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Megan, what an ordeal! I’m glad you’re out on the other side.
      Let me think about those other verses, and maybe I’ll address them in a podcast. Would that be all right? Someone asked me to do the verses about rape in the Old Testament as well, so that might be good to pair together.

      Reply

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