How long does a period last? What to know

Menstruation, or a period of time, occurs when uterine lining exits through the vagina. The length of an individual’s phase can vary.

However, a period will usually last about 4–8 days.

This article will address a typical menstrual period’s average duration and a few factors that might influence it. More generally it also provides some information about the menstrual cycle.

The menstrual cycle by stage

A person’s period may last around 4–8 days.

The menstrual cycle refers to several hormonal changes which occur when the body of a female prepares for pregnancy.

A complete menstrual cycle starts on a period’s first day, and ends the day before the next one.

A typical time period lasts around 4–8 days. The full cycle, however, appears to last for 25–30 days.

Cycles that last less than 21 days are called “polymenorrhea.”

The normal menstrual cycle consists of:

  • Days 1–5: Follicles that contain an egg develop on the ovaries. This is when the bleeding occurs.
  • Days 6–8: Estrogen levels rise, causing the uterine lining to thicken. Day 8 is typically when the bleeding stops.
  • Day 14: Estrogen levels rise, causing the follicle to release the egg. This is called ovulation.
  • Days 15–24: Progesterone levels rise, thickening the lining of the uterus even more.
  • Days 25–28: Estrogen and progesterone levels drop. The unfertilized egg will leave the body, and the cycle will start all over again.

Effects

Many people undergo premenstrual syndrome (PMS) near the beginning of their menstrual cycle.

Symptoms of PMS typically start a few days to 2 weeks before the period begins and ends when the process is over.

Other PMS symptoms include:

  • bloating
  • cramping
  • irritability
  • fatigue
  • changes in appetite
  • depression
  • mood changes
  • changes in bowel movement

What can affect the duration of a period?

Several possible factors can affect the duration of a period. These include:

  • Age: According to the Office on Women’s Health, for a few years after a person’s first period, the cycle may be longer than 38 days. As a person reaches middle age, however, they may start to experience irregular periods as menopause approaches.
  • Body weight: According to some research, body weight can affect a person’s menstrual function.
  • Certain medications: Some types of birth control can affect a person’s bleeding pattern.

Causes of long periods

Certain factors and conditions may lead to a lengthier than usual period. Those factors are described in more detail in the following sections.

Intrauterine devices

Since having a non-hormonal or hormonal intrauterine device (IUD) some people may experience irregular bleeding or spotting for a few months.

Once the body adjusts to the new IUD, the bleeding will return to normal, reduce or stop altogether.

Diagnosis

If they continue to experience heavy menstrual bleeding several months after getting an IUD, a person may wish to contact their doctor.

This can happen if the uterine wall is punctured by an IUD, or if the patient develops a bacterial infection in the uterus.

A doctor will test for signs of physical harm and the existence of potential infections.

Treatment

If someone experiences severe menstrual bleeding, a doctor may recommend using a different IUD or another form of birth control.

If the uterine wall is punctured by an IUD, a physician will remove the IUD, and may recommend surgery.

Perimenopause

Perimenopause, which causes fluctuating hormone levels, occurs when the body begins a transition to menopause. People achieve menopause approximately 1 year after their last cycle.

Perimenopause can cause anovulation which occurs when an egg is not released by the ovaries.

The presence of a mature egg stimulates progesterone development which helps to regulate menstrual periods. Nevertheless, a lack of progesterone can cause severe bleeding.

Diagnosis

No single test will decide if a person has reached perimenopause, or not.

A doctor can confirm perimenopause by evaluating the medical history of the person and the current symptoms.

Some doctors may order blood tests to check the hormone levels of an individual, and rule out other medical conditions that may trigger longer periods.

Treatment

Perimenopause occurs as the female body transitions into menopause, naturally.

A doctor may recommend certain treatments which may help to ease the symptoms of a person. Hormonal birth control, for example, can help soothe hot flashes and irregular periods.

Getting regular exercise, eating a balanced diet and getting enough sleep every night may also help some people make the transition easier.

Pelvic inflammatory disease

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) refers to an infection of the female reproductive organs.

People can get PID from:

  • untreated sexually transmitted infections
  • IUDs
  • using feminine hygiene products, such as douches

PID can cause:

  • heavy bleeding
  • spotting or bleeding between periods
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • lower abdominal pain
  • fever

Diagnosis

A doctor can diagnose PID by examining the medical history of the individual, performing a pelvic exam and evaluating any discharge from the vagina.

Treatment

Doctors can take antibiotics to treat PID.

Immediately after initiation of antibiotic treatment, the symptoms can resolve. Even if that is the case, though, people should always complete the antibiotic course.

It guarantees the treatment of the infection, which helps to prevent reinfection.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a medical condition arising when the tissue surrounding the uterus expands outside the uterus. Ovaries and fallopian tubes are commonly affected areas.

This condition is capable of making cycles longer than usual. It may also cause severe menstrual cramps and backache

Diagnosis

A doctor can diagnose endometriosis with a laparoscopy performed. They will use a camera— inserted into the pelvis by a small incision near the belly button— to examine the pelvic organs during that procedure.

In particular, they’ll look behind the uterus for cysts, scarring, or abnormal tissue deposits.

Doctors may also use ultrasonic scans to locate endometriosis cysts they may have missed during a pelvic examination.

Treatment

There is actually no treatment for endometriosis. Therapies tend to focus on alleviating pain, and addressing concerns regarding fertility.

Endometriosis therapies differ according to a person’s age, state of health, and seriousness of disease.

Endometriosis treatment options include:

  • over-the-counter or prescription pain medication
  • hormone therapy
  • surgical removal of any cysts

Causes of short periods

The following sections will address some causes and circumstances that may result in a shorter period than normal.

Hormonal birth control

Hormonal birth control includes hormones that can either thicken the mucus lining the cervix or inhibit ovulation, including oestrogen and progestin.

People starting a new type of hormonal birth control can experience periods of irregularity.

They may however find that, over time, their times become lighter. People with an IUD can cease to have periods at all.

Diagnosis

A doctor will discuss the possible side effects and what to expect when a person starts a new form of hormonal birth control.

Any new or deteriorating symptoms that you encounter while using hormonal birth control can be talked to your doctor.

A doctor may do a physical exam or conduct blood tests to rule out any underlying medical conditions.

Treatment

A doctor may suggest an alternative type of birth control which may help with the symptoms.

For example, if a person has an IUD but wants to have regular periods, the doctor may instead recommend switching to hormonal birth control pills.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common health condition affecting up to 5 million people in the United States.

PCOS happens when bags filled with fluid develop on the ovaries. The exact cause remains unknown, but people with PCOS appear to be called androgens with elevated levels of insulin and male hormones.

Androgens can inhibit ovulation which may cause periods of irregularity.

Those with PCOS may have fewer days than average, or may skip entire periods of time.

Other PCOS signs include:

  • excess hair on the face and body
  • acne
  • hair loss
  • unexpected weight gain

Diagnosis

Doctors are able to diagnose PCOS by blood testing.

We use those tests to check the hormone levels of an individual. People who have high androgen levels may possess PCOS.

They may also conduct a pelvic or ultrasonic examination to check for signs of endometriosis.

Treatment

PCOS treatments focus primarily on relieving and managing the symptoms.

Hormonal birth control and and androgen-blocking medicines can help reduce acne and regulate menstrual cycles.

A moderate body weight and a balanced diet can help regulate insulin levels.

When to see a doctor

If they find any significant changes in their menstrual cycle a person should contact their doctor.

Some other reasons to see a doctor include:

  • severe abdominal cramps
  • bleeding that lasts for longer than 8 days
  • bleeding or spotting between periods
  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • fever

Summary

Typically, the periods occur once every 28 days, and the bleeding lasts about 4–8 days.

Several factors can affect the duration of a person’s time. Including:

  • age
  • hormone levels
  • body weight
  • diet
  • medications

When noticing any significant changes in the frequency or duration of their periods, a person should contact a doctor.

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