There’s really no such thing as a “normal” period. Sure there are general guidelines, but every woman is unique and different. Some women have unpredictable cycles, while others experience regular, clockwork menstruation. It’s important to note that there is likely nothing is wrong with you if your period is a little longer or shorter than others. It’s also perfectly fine if your period varies a bit from month to month.
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But what’s the deal if you suddenly feel like your period is lasting forever? Yep, it’s annoying. But is it cause for concern? Gynecologist Erin Higgins, MD, offers advice on what might be causing your period to overstay its welcome and how to manage it.
You probably learned in high school that a woman’s period occurs every 21 to 35 days (with most women’s cycles occurring every 28 days).
The average period is two to seven days in length, so bleeding for eight days or more is considered long. In general, periods on the longer end of normal (five to seven days) aren’t something to worry about. So although aggravating, it’s unlikely due to an underlying problem.
Periods lasting for eight days or more should be investigated, says Dr. Higgins. Heavy periods (requiring multiple pad or tampon changes a day) or infrequent periods (occurring less than every 5 weeks) should also be evaluated. A change in cycle characteristics (such as a noticeable difference in frequency, heaviness or spotting between periods) is also a reason to seek medical care.
The source of the issue
Long periods can be the result of a variety of factors such as health conditions, your age and your lifestyle.
Underlying health conditions that can cause long periods include uterine fibroids, endometrial (uterine) polyps, adenomyosis, or more rarely, a precancerous or cancerous lesion of the uterus. A long period can also result from hormonal imbalances (like hypothyroidism) or a bleeding disorder.
Many women struggle with long and heavy periods for years without knowing there are ways to manage and improve their symptoms. I encourage all patients to seek out medical care if they have questions about their menstrual cycle or other gynecologic issues.
The first step to managing long periods due to a specific condition is to treat it. This can include things like removing an endometrial polyp or correcting hypothyroidism. Hormonal contraceptives (things like the pill, the patch or a hormonal IUD) are commonly used to help regulate abnormal cycles resulting from a wide variety of causes. Most of these methods take three to six months before you’ll notice some improvement.
The effects of birth control and menopause
Various forms of birth control can affect the frequency and duration of your period. The birth control pill tends to produce a regular period that occurs every month and lasts for three to five days. A hormonal IUD usually results in a lighter period (less bleeding) or no period at all. Most women experience spotting for the first few months after getting the IUD.
A copper IUD (such as Paragard®) may have no effect on bleeding patterns or may cause heavier and longer periods for some women. Progestin-only methods like the injection, medroxyprogesterone acetate (such as Depo-Provera®), and the implant, etonogestrel (such as Nexplanon®) are associated with irregular spotting as well, but most women report lighter and shorter periods.
Periods can become longer and more irregular as women approach menopause. It’s important to discuss cycle characteristics with your doctor, especially women over the age of 45, as the risk of endometrial hyperplasia (a precancerous change) and endometrial cancer increases with age.