Why irregular periods should not be ignored at any age
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.
Women 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. A doctor may recommend you take oral contraceptives.
“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, benign ovarian cysts, weight gain and an onset of excess facial and body hair growth or even hair loss. They can also experience painful cramps that accompany their period when they have one, Dr. Jones says.
“However, with PCOS, what is thought to be a period is actually often not a true period, because ovulation has not occurred,” she says. “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 says these PCOS-related health issues can be helped by taking an oral contraceptive. 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, she 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, Dr. Jones says.
“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 was a regional director of public affairs and marketing operations for Advocate Health Care. She enjoys road trips, dogs, minimalism, yoga, hiking, and “urban hiking.”