If you're a woman, you may be more familiar with the premenstrual syndrome than you'd like to be. But do you know when a problem period indicates that a visit to your doctor is in order?
For most women, menstrual cycles last between 21 and 35 days, with a period of three to seven days. However, many women experience variations in the length, timing, and symptoms of their cycles, and menstrual disorders are often to blame. Up to 85 percent of women with regular cycles experience at least one menstrual disorder symptom before their periods.
Premenstrual Syndrome and Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD):
When premenstrual symptoms become a monthly fact of life, the condition is called premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. PMS symptoms range from emotional upheaval, such as irritability and sadness, to physical effects such as cramping and breast tenderness. A certain number of women, about 5 percent, experience emotional and physical symptoms so severe that they have problems managing daily life. This is called PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder).
Why PMS occurs, and why some women experience it to a greater degree than others, is unknown, says Steven Sondheimer, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "There are some recent hints that there is a genetic predisposition. It's a function of certain hormones and their impact on receptors in the brain that might be different from one person to another."
A predisposition that runs in families is the most likely explanation for why some women are more susceptible to PMS or PMDD, and why some women's PMS symptoms are more severe, notes Dr. Sondheimer.
Amenorrhea and Dysmenorrhea: Missing and Painful Periods
Amenorrhea means that you have missed one or more periods when you were expecting to have them. There are a number of reasons for missing periods, including:
- Excessive exercise
- Sudden weight change
- Not eating enough
- Medication side effects
- Hormonal abnormalities
Missing your period for three or more months is considered abnormal (unless you're pregnant). If you skip periods often or have not had one for more than three months, contact your doctor.
Severe pain during your period, so much so that it can impair your quality of life is called dysmenorrhea. The pain may be due to endometriosis, which occurs when uterine lining tissue grows outside of the uterus, or you have fibroids, benign growths that can appear anywhere on the uterus. Your doctor can recommend medications, pain management techniques, or surgery that will help.