The Menstrual Cycle
We have often been told that our menses need to be synchronized to a particular date of the month and that not getting periods regularly is a sign of an underlying health issue and may cause fertility problems in future. A regular period cycle is one that repeats after every 24 - 32 days and lasts between 3 and 7 days.
Anything more than that or not getting your period for months at a stretch is unhealthy and may be owing to a condition known as amenorrhea. However, it has been noticed that irregular periods are a common problem in teens and adolescents, which leads us to the question: what are irregular periods? Is it okay to have irregular periods as a teen? And what are the reasons for irregular periods in teenage girls?
Menarche or the onset of the first menstrual cycle occurs when the body sheds its endometrium layer for the very first time and begins to bleed. During this process, a woman’s body undergoes the following changes:
- This process usually occurs around puberty, which is around the age of 13 years and is marked by the growth of secondary sexual characteristics, like pubic hair and breasts.
- Periods occur because the ovaries release eggs which are not fertilized and eventually discarded by the uterus, which then gets attached to the endometrial layer that sheds once a month.
- The average age for periods to begin is 12 years, but it can start as early as 8 years or as late as 16 years, depending upon a variety of factors like environmental, lifestyle or family history.
When periods don’t happen every month during the teenage years, a lot of parents get in the panic mode, but let us tell you that irregular periods in teenage years are fairly common and not that big a cause of big concern.
Irregular Periods in Teens
Teens experience irregular periods and it is not uncommon for an adolescent to go several months without getting a period, within the first year or two at the beginning of the menstrual cycle. Here is why:
- For the first couple of years, after menarche, long and irregular menstrual cycles are quite common and probably not a cause to worry.
- This period is called the anovulatory phase, which means that the body isn’t ovulating on a monthly basis.
- This phenomenon is quite common among teens, who have long gaps between their period cycles. The teen body is still getting used to the process of ovulation on a monthly basis and hasn’t quite settled into this pattern yet.
But once it starts to acknowledge the changes in the body and the hormones being produced by it, ovulation will start as per usual and one can expect regular, predictable menstrual cycles.
When are Irregular Periods a Cause of Concern?
If a girl has a first period with the development of secondary sexual characteristics, but doesn’t have another one for at least a year, it is time to seek medical opinion. This is because amenorrhea in teens, also known as primary amenorrhea, can be a sign of underlying health issues that impact the body and fertility in a young woman. Listed below are some of the causes of irregular periods in teenage girls:
Perhaps the most common reason for irregular periods is Polycystic Ovary Syndrome aka PCOS, when the ovaries develop a cyst or fluid filled sacs that inhibit the rate of ovulation or simply stop the process of the release of the egg from the ovaries. A medical practitioner may have to carry out a physical exam like sonography to determine this, but excess loss or gain in weight, too much growth of hair and long, erratic and painful periods can also be signs of PCOS. This condition can usually be treated through hormone therapy, and it is fairly common, so that almost 1 in 11 women experience this condition.
Teens are energetic beings with their whole day mapped out for them. They rarely want to sit idle and have such high levels of physical activity, that can also prompt irregular periods. Coupled with inadequate calorie intake, this can mean that your teen is in dire need of some nutrition and rest, so that their body doesn’t exert itself with period issues. Asking them to take a couple of days off and putting them on a healthy dietary plan should get their flow running.
Pregnancy? Well, don’t be surprised. We all need to make sure that our teens are properly educated in terms of sex. Pregnancy can be, no matter how far-fetched, a reason for irregular periods. Sharing information with your teen about sex education, menstruation and birth control will not only make her aware about her options, but also help the transition into womanhood. Apart from that, certain genetic issues or underlying family history problems can also be a reason for irregular periods and it is best to get them tested for the same.
We surely understand why mothers are worried about their daughters regarding irregular periods. But unlike elders, irregular periods are just a sign of the body adapting to this new phase of life. So, instead of panicking, talk with your teenager and assure them all is, in fact, well.