Several women with PCOS have highly irregular periods. And when they do have periods, those 4-5 days are the most difficult days of their months. The bleeding is unusually heavy and the pain is unbearable. Let’s find out the link between PCOS and irregular periods and tips to manage the condition.
“Irregular” Periods Explained
The average menstrual cycle takes 28 days on an average. Anywhere between 21 to 35 days is considered as “normal.” You have irregular periods if:
- You have eight or less menstrual cycles per year, and
- You take 35 days or longer between menstrual cycles
Many women with PCOS have heavier or lighter than normal bleeding during their periods. During normal periods, your uterus wall thickens only as much as is needed. This thickness is shed if there is no fertilization of the egg by the sperm. If your menstrual cycles take more time, there could be abnormal thickening of the uterine walls. This could increase your risks of developing uterine cancer.
PCOS And Irregular Periods: What Are The Causes?
A normal menstrual cycle starts when the pituitary gland in your brain produces, and sends, two hormones to the ovaries. These two hormones are luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH.) A surge in LH levels is a signal for the ovaries to release an egg.
The LH and FSH also signal the ovaries to produce the two vital female hormones – estrogen and progesterone. When the ovaries release an egg, it travels to the uterus. In anticipation of a pregnancy, the uterine wall thickens and is ready to nourish the fetus if fertilization happens. This thickening is caused by progesterone.
If the egg isn’t fertilized by the sperm, the thickened walls of the uterus are shed. This results in the bleeding during the period. This process is repeated every month, or roughly every 28 days on an average.
When you have PCOS, the levels of LH are already high. There is no surge of LHs. Without a surge in LHs, the ovaries won’t get the signal to release the egg. As a result, no ovulation occurs.
Stress can also be an important contributor to irregular periods in PCOS. When you are stressed, your body produces cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol in turn, elevates insulin and activates the liver to produce and secrete glucose in the blood. This is because when you are stressed, your body is preparing you to either “flee or fight” the situation. It will direct all of its resources into the most important activities for survival at that point of time. Creating a favorable situation to get pregnant is definitely not one of them. So if you are stressed for long, your body does not bother to run your menstrual cycle regularly.
Managing and Treating Irregular Periods
Conventional methods of treating irregular periods include hormonal contraception (birth control pills, or BCPs) and metformin. However, taking BCPs comes with its own burden of side effects. Metformin too has a long list of side effects.
Getting your menstrual cycles back on track requires a holistic approach. You need to eat right, replace lost nutrients with high quality supplements and foods, and identifying and managing stressors.
PCOS is a condition in which if you try to fix one symptom with a lifestyle change, other symptoms also get reduced. It is a complex disease where all the symptoms arise from only a handful of the underlying problems. For instance, if you lose weight, you reduce insulin resistance. Improving insulin resistance decreases the excess production of insulin and subsequent hyperinsulinemia. This reduces the overproduction of male hormones. Once male hormone levels drop, symptoms like acne, hair thinning, facial and body hair start resolving on their own.
Irregular periods make it very difficult for women to get pregnant. While conventional medicine may treat individual symptoms of PCOS, they often ignore to address the root cause of this condition. Women with PCOS often go through the pain of getting their periods right so that they can get pregnant. But there are safer, better and more effective ways to address the root cause of PCOS.