Why irregular periods should not be ignored at any age
If you have irregular periods, your physician may recommend you begin taking the birth control pill. If you have a teenage daughter and she has irregular periods, her physician may recommend she take oral contraceptives.
One of the most common reasons for irregular periods, especially in young women, is Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), a hormone imbalance that causes irregular menstrual periods.
Females with PCOS do not release an egg, or ovulate, regularly; therefore, they do not get regular menstrual periods. PCOS can cause many additional health issues, including infertility.
“Birth control pills are often prescribed to lower a patient’s hormone levels to a normal range and regulate periods,” says Dr. Monique Jones, an OB/GYN with Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest, Ill. “Oral contraceptives also lessen other problems associated with PCOS and prevent excess cysts from forming.”
Patients with PCOS often have acne, small benign (non-cancerous ovarian cysts), weight gain and an onset of excess facial and body hair growth (hirsutism) or even hair loss. They can also experience painful cramps that accompany their period when they have one, says Dr. Jones.
“However, with PCOS, what is thought to be a period is actually often not a true period, because ovulation has not occurred,” says Dr. Jones. “When a female does not have regular ovulation, the uterine lining is not shed, and that causes the lining to grow thicker than normal. This can cause heavy and erratic bleeding and can eventually lead to additional health problems, including endometriosis and even endometrial cancer.”
Dr. Jones explains that all of these PCOS-related health issues can be helped by taking an oral contraceptive. The birth control pill can also decrease the chances of getting ovarian cancer and additional ovarian cysts. Lessening and preventing these issues can help a woman’s chances of conceiving later in life.
Although the pill is a good way to alleviate symptoms of PCOS, eating a healthy, well-balanced diet and eliminating simple carbohydrates (white flour-based foods) can also improve the symptoms of PCOS, Dr. Jones adds.
A person should not be on birth control pills if she has blood clots (or a family history of blood clots), certain types of migraine headaches, certain types of heart disease, high blood pressure not medically controlled, liver disease or if she smokes.
“It’s best to tell your physician all of your health issues and family health issues to determine if the pill is the right method to manage your PCOS,” says Dr. Jones.
Talk to your doctor about the potential side effects of oral contraceptives, and remember, the pill does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
About the Author
Kate Eller, health enews contributor, is director of public affairs for Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center and Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. She came to Chicago and Advocate in 2014 after living in Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas and Texas. She enjoys road trips, exploring little towns, minimalism, hiking and urban hiking around Chicago.