Wondering what your periods say about your health?

The average woman has approximately 456 total periods over 38 years. If her period lasts about 5 days, that’s 2,280 days of menstrual bleeding or 6.25 years of her life. 

Your periods matter! 

And your period problems are no longer something to be endured, hidden or managed with the oral contraceptive pill only. There are better solutions and alternative options. Women everywhere are catching on, asking questions, educating themselves, and taking their health into their own hands ???????? I’m excited to be part of this movement as both a woman and a healthcare provider. People need access to information to make informed choices. That’s where I come in.

Today’s post is all about period tracking – what to track and why it’s important.

Most people use period apps to track data about their monthly cycle. Good old fashioned pen and paper will do the trick too, but period apps are easy and fun to use. Tracking your cycle’s signs and symptoms is the best way to get to know your body. Your period problems are essentially clues, telling you that something is off. You may not know this, but evaluation of menstrual patterns is like a vital sign, such as blood pressure. When blood pressure is too high or too low, that is a sign of a potential health concern. In a similar way, you can view your menstrual cycle patterns as a sign of your underlying health. But what is it telling you? Information about menstruation patterns helps me assess overall health status.

As a period detective, your first job is to collect information. Identifying your menstrual patterns may require a few months of tracking; however, you probably have a good sense of your most concerning period problem(s). Then, by understanding what is normal vs abnormal, you can interpret your period clues in the context of your health.

In summary, how to interpret your period clues:

  1. Collect information – tracking your cycle
  2. Understand how your period should be (what is normal)
  3. Understand the things that can go wrong (what is not normal)
  4. Reasons why. You may need to ask your doctor for help at this stage*
  5. Treatment. By this stage you’ll feel empowered to have a very open and productive conversation with your healthcare provider about treatment options

* You know your body better than anyone else, but we are all susceptible to personal biases. It is best to have a professional healthcare provider (HCP) evaluate your health concerns in the context of your overall health status. This blog post is an educational resource. It is meant to highlight potential root causes for common period periods for the purpose of self-awareness. It is not meant to replace diagnosis by a qualified HCP.

Collect information – tracking your cycle

If you’re not using a period app (and even if you are), this is almost everything that you could track.

  1. First day of your heaviest day of bleeding is day 1 of your cycle
  2. Number of days between “day 1” and your next “day 1” is the length of your cycle
  3. Number of days of bleeding
  4. Bleeding between periods (spotting)
  5. Amount of menstrual fluid lost – determined by use of diva cup, pads, tampons
  6. Consistency and colour of flow, including number and size of menstrual clots
  7. Cervical fluid (read this post)
  8. Pain: quality, intensity, location, characteristic and duration
  9. Genitourinary and gastrointestinal issues, like urinary tract infections, nausea, abdominal pain etc.
  10. Life events: what is the impact of your symptoms on daily life, work, socializing and sex?
  11. Waking temperatures or BBT tracking (read this post)
  12. Duration of luteal phase, or the second phase of your cycle
  13. Premenstrual symptoms such as irritability, headaches, acne, or food cravings
  14. Unusual stress or illness
  15. Mood, emotions, affects: depression, mental fogginess, social isolation, stress, trauma, anger, guilt, and irritability
  16. Fatigue, sleep, sickness: severe fatigue and its relation to your period, fever and cold before period, interrupted sleep cycles
  17. Diet, exercise, and weight changes
  18. Treatments: medications, hormonal medications, herbs, supplements, vitamins, alternative treatments like acupuncture.

This is a lot of information to track. But having all of this information will put you and your HCP in the best possible position to understand your menstrual cycle patterns. Period apps make this easier, but they aren’t perfect. Track what you can with whatever method you prefer. If this seems overwhelming or cumbersome, you won’t do it at all. If that’s how you feel at this point, then I suggest starting with the basics. The basics of period tracking: day 1 of your cycle, cycle length, number of days of bleeding, amount of menstrual fluid lost (light, moderate, heavy), and the characteristics of your most concerning period problem.

Track these period signs and symptoms for at least 3 cycles. It takes approximately 100 days for ovarian follicles (sacs within your ovaries that contain the eggs) to mature from a dormant state all the way to ovulation. A healthy period starts with healthy follicles because as they develop, they produce estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. “Your ovarian follicles need to be healthy for all of their hundred-day journey to ovulation. If they’re unhealthy for part of their journey, the result will be low progesterone months later.” Briden, Lara. “Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods.” iBooks.

Hormones interact and function as a team in one interconnected super system. Your health today will be reflected in your period months from now. Therefore, the right treatment for your health and your periods will be based on the factors affecting the health of your ovaries, like stress, under eating, nutrient deficiencies, sleep deprivation, circadian disruption (jet lag or staying up late), illness, and certain medical conditions.

Next week, we’ll look at some common menstrual cycle patterns or “period clues”, and what they might mean.