Most people don’t talk about their periods, which is weird, because most of us get them. About half of the world’s population has this shared experience, but it’s hugely stigmatized. If you asked any woman (no matter her age) about her period, she’ll probably tell you that she has a lot of questions.
We know that periods come every month on the same day – or they’re supposed to anyway. We’ve been told that after the first year or so of getting our periods, our cycles will become regular and we’ll have “our time of the month.” But what if that’s not the case? What if you don’t get your period every month? What if it’s twice a month? What if it lasts for one day one month and two weeks the next? That’s the case for a huge majority of people.
Irregular periods are actually more common than you’d think. So, if your period is irregular, don’t worry too much. You’re not alone. It’s pretty rare for a woman to gets her period at the same time, on the same day, every month. While irregular periods on their own aren’t generally dangerous, they can be symptoms of some deeper problems in your body—like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or endometriosis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PCOS affects 6 to 12% of all women, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reports that endometriosis affects one in ten women and irregular periods in general impacts many more. Really, you aren’t alone.
But even though irregularity might be common, it’s not trivial. It can be a big issue, and the best way to figure out what’s going on with you is to see a doctor.
“I feel like the best way to control irregular periods is to have a candid talk with your gynecologist. I know it can feel intimidating to be open about your periods with your doctor, especially if you’re seeing a new OBGYN, but OBs are used to hearing all the ugly and gross details about periods” says Chelsea Jackson, a junior at Iowa State University.
No matter how uncomfortable it may be, you need to see a doctor with any questions you may have. The treatments they can provide are almost foolproof in how well they work to regulate periods.
If you’re still on the fence about whether or not your irregularity seems severe enough to see a doctor, or if any treatments can really help, listen to what these college women have to say:
“So during my freshman year of college, I had my period three times in six weeks. I think it was due to the change in lifestyle and overall stress that freshman year brings. Anyways, after the third time I got it I hysterically called my mom because I was freaking out as I know I was getting my period an unnatural amount of times. So, she scheduled me a meeting with a gyno and we came to the conclusion that the best way to get in on track was for me to start birth control. She prescribed me the lowest dosage and since then my period has always been on track!” -Jana Brzovski, Marist College
“I got my period in third grade (super early!), and from then until about 10th grade it was always irregular. It never came on the same day of the month, and sometimes it came on an entirely different week. I always had really bad cramps, but during November of my 10th grade year, I ended up in the emergency room from how severe they were. I was diagnosed with endometriosis and put on birth control as treatment. Since then, my period has been regular and much more manageable. I really encourage anyone who has an irregular period or bad cramps to see a doctor! It’s so important that we as women see doctors that take our symptoms and pain seriously so we can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment.” -Nicole Wills, University of Central Florida
“I stopped getting my period for about a year when I was a sophomore in high school. I found out that my estrogen levels were low (I wasn’t on birth control), and so I started eating more foods with estrogen in them, like soy, vegetables, chickpeas, etc. and it came back on it’s own. I had blood work done by my doctor to figure out what was going on with my hormone levels.” -Meghan McMahon, Colgate University
“I used to experience highly irregular periods, I even once went 6 months without having one. At that point I was tired of never knowing when I would have a period, and worrying that something could be wrong with me. So, I went to the gynecologist and had a check up to get birth control. I’ve now been on the pill for three years and it has made my periods so much more bearable. I know exactly when I will start and usually how long it will last. I hardly ever have cramps, and my periods are lighter than they’ve ever been.” -Sydney Keith, University of Texas
“I discovered I had PCOS when I was about 13. PCOS is a hormone condition, and one symptom is never getting your period. I rarely had a period after my first one at age 11 (another PCOS symptom is early puberty), and when I did, it would be so heavy and painful from months of building up that I could barely leave my bed, let alone go to school. We went to an endocrinologist, who diagnosed the PCOS based off my symptoms. I went on the combination pill to regulate my periods so that I would no longer have to miss school for them or live in suspense wondering when it would come, and it has been an absolute lifesaver for me!” -Colleen, Northwestern University
“I’ve had irregular periods since I was about 12 years old! The doctors wanted to put me on birth control at such a young age but my mom always said no. But the summer before college I went to the OBGYN and was put on birth control to help with [the irregularity], but I ended up finding out I had PCOS and my irregular periods was part of the diagnosis!” -Kashawna Guy, University of North Carolina at Greensboro
“I’ve dealt with irregular periods for as long as I’ve been getting them. Some months I wouldn’t get my period at all, other times they would be for weeks. Several fainting episodes when I was 16 led to a gynecologist appointment where I was told I had a hormone imbalance. I was prescribed birth control for a year, [but I stopped] taking them after a few months. My periods became regular and stayed regular for a while, up until recently. My irregular periods were accompanied with bloatedness and anxiety about not getting my period. One trip to the gynecologist later I was told I have PCOS. I guess moral of the story is sometimes irregular periods can just be your body funding it’s rhythm, but it’s always best to consult with a medical professional because you never know.” -Fadiyah Rabin, University of Cape Town
“I had irregular periods for a long time, and ended up going to see my OB-GYN because it was causing so many problems in my life. It took two years, but we finally got a diagnosis: endometriosis. It took another two years after that to find a medication that would help me control my periods. Now, I am back on track and have very light flows for only a couple days a month! It took a long time to get there, but I am so glad that I made the commitment to myself and my health, and was able to find a medication that worked.” -Audrey Lent, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
So, the moral of the story is this: If you have irregular periods, you’re not alone. But just because it’s something that many women experience doesn’t mean you have to just sit back and deal with it. Make an appointment with your doctor to make sure nothing is seriously wrong, and hopefully you can get your periods working like clockwork.