Periods are not a topic many people often speak about but they can reveal a lot about a your overall health. From the frequency of your periods, to heaviness, colour and other symptoms like pain and PMS, tracking your cycle can help you understand the changes in your body and pinpoint if your cycle is normal or not.
What if your cycle is irregular?
If your periods occur less than every 21 days or more than once every 35 days, there could be a number of different explanations. Extreme weight loss, over-exercising and high levels of stress can cause women to skip periods or stop them altogether.
Irregular periods are a sign of hormonal imbalances and one of the most common reasons for irregular cycles is a condition called PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS affects about 20% of women with classic signs such as anovulation, raised testosterone, excess hair growth, and the appearance of 'cysts" on the ovaries.
Irregular or absent periods are not normal and can be bothersome for women who are trying to fall pregnant. These issues can be addressed with lifestyle and dietary modifications, herbs and supplements, and in some cases hormone interventions.
What if your periods are painful?
Up to 90% of women will experience a painful period at some point in their life. Painful periods could point to elevated prostaglandins and inflammation, a hormonal imbalance, gut problems or pelvic problems such as tight pelvic floor muscles. However for at least 10% of women, consistently painful periods are a sign of endometriosis.
Women with endometriosis have abnormal cells growing in their pelvis that bleed in the same way as the uterine lining. These abnormal cells can exist on their fallopian tubes, ovaries, bowels and other places, and because they don't leave the body during the period, they build up causing inflammation, scarring, adhesions, pain and infertility.
Painful periods are not normal and can be addressed with lifestyle and dietary modifications, women's health physiotherapy, and in cases of endometriosis, surgical intervention is necessary.
What if you always have PMS?
In the week before the period, many women experience premenstrual syndrome or PMS. PMS is a combination of a wide variety of physical and emotional symptoms, which include mood swings, depression, anxiety, irritability, bloating, sugar cravings, acne, headaches, swollen breasts, among others.
PMS can occur due to sudden hormone shifts in the second half of the cycle. Stress, lack of physical activity, psychological state and poor dietary habits are linked to PMS. PMS can be debilitating for a number of women, and some women have premenstrual dysphoric disorder or PMDD, which is when these symptoms exist all through the whole cycle.
Many women will find a correlation between decreased levels of physical activity and increased PMS, poorer nutritional intake and increased period pain, and higher levels of stress correlating to skipped or absent periods.
By eating a more plant-based wholefoods diet, practicing mindfulness or meditation regularly, and engaging in moderate amounts of exercise, women can keep their cycles healthy and regular.
Heba Shaheed is co-founder and CEO of The Pelvic Expert (thepelvicexpert.com), a digital wellbeing platform specialising in maternal, menstrual and hormone health.
Heba was inspired to work in the space following her own challenges with 15-year history of chronic pelvic pain and endometriosis.
A qualified physiotherapist, nutritionist and exercise specialist, she has supported more than 2000 women to better health and wellbeing.
The Pelvic Expert provides holistic and research-based, women-focussed, online wellbeing programs to corporates, private health insurers, workplaces and individuals.