When You Have a Problem—Period

SYMPTOM: Heavy Cramps and Pain

Let’s be honest, ladies. Sometimes period cramps can be a good excuse to cash in a sick day at work or stay home from school and watch your favorite movie on repeat. But for women who experience severe cramps, these are nothing to welcome at all.

Possible Causes: Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and its more severe counterpart, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), are most likely to blame. Striking in the week or two before your period starts and often easing after the first couple of days of your period, the hormone roller coaster that triggers PMS or PMDD can bring on fatigue, irritation, anxiety, cramps, sadness, disinterest, loss of sex drive, aches, a loss of sex drive, and other symptoms. If you’re having pains that seem to be coming from your stomach or abdomen, this may actually be a sign of a pelvic infection and not PMS/PMDD, so it’s important to pinpoint just what kind of pain you’re feeling.

When to Call Your Doctor: An over-the-counter pain reliever and giving yourself some TLC can often ease the symptoms of PMS. If you find that your symptoms are more severe and interfere with your daily activities, talk to your doctor, as PMDD and its accompanying depression can become quite serious in some women. Along with some lifestyle changes, your doctor may recommend a treatment plan, such as hormonal birth control, to balance you out hormonally, physically and emotionally.


SYMPTOM: Changes to Your Period

Seemingly any change in your life can manifest in changes to your period. The duration, timing and intensity of your period can reflect any one of life’s frequent tweaks, making diet, exercise, stress, medication and general lifestyle all possible culprits when your cycle becomes erratic. What this means is that the clockwork-like period may be a rarity and some changes are very normal month to month.

Possible Causes: Life.

When to Call Your Doctor: Know yourself and your body, as you’re your own best judge of what is and isn’t normal for you. If your intuition and your periods tell you that something is wrong, this may just be the case. Staying on top of your regular Pap tests provides a great opportunity to speak to your doctor and monitor your health.


What If I…?

How many scenarios have you ever been too embarrassed to run by your friend, sister, mother or doctor? Most of them are likely pretty common.


…Leave a Tampon in for Too Long?
Any time you’re using a tampon it’s important to follow the directions on the packaging, which will tell you how to insert and remove a tampon, as well as how long it can safely be kept in. The biggest risk of leaving in a tampon for too long is toxic shock syndrome (TSS), a disease caused by bacteria that can cause fevers, diarrhea, headaches, nausea and other symptoms. The bacteria can be introduced through a foreign object, such as a tampon. If you think you’ve left a tampon in for too long, the first step is to remove it and then call your doctor, especially if you develop a rash, have a fever or feel ill.


Have Sex During My Period?
There’s no medical reason to avoid having (safe) sex during menstruation. While your chances of getting pregnant from having sex during your period are low, still proceed with caution, as sperm can survive for days and early ovulation after a period isn’t unheard of. For some women, the endorphin surge from sex can even bring on the body’s own natural painkillers to ease cramps. If you use tampons, just be sure to remove them before having sex.


Have Unusual Discharge?
Every woman has some discharge, which can vary in consistency, color and smell. This is all the work of your cervix, which produces a clear mucus that can change at different times in your cycle. You may notice an uptick in your discharge around the time that you ovulate. A bacterial infection, STD or yeast infection can bring on abnormal vaginal discharge, though, so if you notice a big change in your discharge from what is normal, see your doctor to investigate the cause. Yeast infections are often the culprit, and can be treated with an over-the-counter product and by including probiotics and yogurt in your diet.

On and On and On

As if bleeding monthly isn’t enough, your cyclic hormone fluctuations can usher in a whole mess of symptoms that can make you want to scream. Just know that if you experience any of the following, these are often normal and temporary issues that will likely be gone by the time you make it to the other side of your period. By keeping track of your symptoms, you can get to know your cycle better and be able to anticipate your symptoms. If any of your period symptoms bother you and interfere with your life, talk to your doctor about your options and find out how birth control and other treatments can help you get them under control.

  • Acne
  • Back pain
  • Bloating
  • Change in appetite
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Cramps
  • Disinterest
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and sleep changes
  • Irritability
  • Migraines and headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Sadness
  • Tender or swollen breasts


Einav Keet is a women's health writer, Philadelphian, and mother to son Luka.

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