PERIODS can be an inconvenience, but they come around once a month for most women.
When it comes to Aunt Flo's visit, what's normal can vary from person to person.
How long they last for can be influenced by a whole host of lifestyle factors.
This can include the sort of contraception you're on, stress or even how much sleep or exercise you've been getting.
And some people have heavy painful periods, while others might just experience mild discomfort, if any at all.
Dr Shree Datta, health advisor for INTIMINA, says lots of things can impact a person's menstrual cycle.
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She said: "Remember, no one factor alone influences your menstrual cycle or indeed your mood, appetite or exercise performance, which is why it's so important to track your sleep, diet and fitness throughout your cycle."
Stress can play a major role, she said: "Note any key stress factors – such as a deadline at work, exams, moving house etc. as these can also impact your periods, diet, sleep and exercise performance."
The guru said that it's key to keep an eye on what's 'normal' for you, so you're up to speed on any changes, and can spot things that are affecting your cycle.
She said: "Tracking your cycle can allow you to recognise specific patterns at specific times of your cycle which are individual to you."
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How long does a period last?
The average period length can vary hugely.
Dr Bryony Henderson, lead GP at digital healthcare provider Livi, said "the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but it can last anywhere between 21 and 45 days."
She adds: “The first day of your period is known as day one of your menstrual cycle, and most people will usually bleed for about five days, although it can be anywhere between three and eight days."
“A typical period lasts two to seven days, and women lose between three and five tablespoons of blood during this time," adds Dr Bryony.
But it can be longer, depending on your personal cycle.
Feeling cranky, having cramps and experiencing mood changes – aka PMS(premenstrual syndrome) – can all begin before you start bleeding.
When bleeding continues for more than seven days, which is the upper length of time for the majority of women, it is called menorrhagia.
Around five per cent of women are diagnosed with menorrhagia.
The condition is also used to describe very heavy periods, meaning you need to change your pad or tampon every one to two hours, or empty your menstrual cup more often than is recommended.
You also might need to use two types of sanitary product at the same time, because otherwise you may bleed through your clothing, or bedding.
According to the NHS, you may also pass blood clots larger than about 2.5cm (the size of a 10p coin).
Heavy bleeding like this can leave you feeling exhausted, drained, may affect your ability to work and do the things you want to do, and can lead to an iron deficiency, the NHS says.
If your periods are affecting or disrupting your everyday life it's important to speak to your GP.
You can also take the NHS heavy periods self assessment quiz, as a starting point for seeking treatment.
What does a heavy period mean and what causes it?
On average, the amount of blood lost during a period is roughly less than 80ml, says Dr Shree Datta.
"Heavy periods can and affect people's overall health and lifestyle so can be beneficial and is important to monitor."
Signs to watch for include:
- Periods lasting longer than 7 days
- Using two forms of sanitary products together and having to change every 1-2 hours
- Bleeding through clothes and bedding
- Passing blood clots larger than a 10p coin
Dr Shree adds: "There are many causes for heavy periods including medical problems such as polyps, fibroids in the womb, PSCOS and thyroid disorder or blood clotting disorders, which are all things your gynaecologist would investigate."
What counts as the last day of your period?
The day you stop bleeding is the last day of your period, which for most people is roughly day five.
You're likely to have a couple of heavy days, and then a few lighter days as your period comes to an end.
However, you might assume it's done and dusted, only to then get some spotting – very light bleeding – which is normal.
What can affect how long your period lasts?
Your age, weight, proximity to your teenage years, pregnancy, or menopause can all affect the length of your period.
Uterine, hormonal or blood conditions, and any medication you might take for these, can also play a part, as can your hormones, the NHS says.
What causes long periods?
Lots of people experience long periods, and they might be normal for you.
However, if they are lasting more than seven days, or if you're experiencing heavy bleeding that's affecting your life, see your doctor.
If you've just started on a new medication or hormonal contraception, like birth control pills, vaginal rings, patches, or IUDs, these can trigger long periods in the first few months of using them.
When women first start their periods, it's often the case that for the first three years periods can be long and inconsistent.
As your cycle gets into a regular rhythm though, this usually settles down.
Sometimes, long periods can be be a sign of something more serious.
Speaking to The Sun, gynaecology doctor, Dr Sarah Welsh, who co-founded women's health brand HANX said: "Some causes of heavy menstrual bleeding include bleeding disorders, fibroids (growth of tissue on your womb), polyps (growths on the neck of your womb or the inside of your womb), amongst others.
"It's important to see your health professional if your periods are changing or unusual for you, or if they are affecting your day to day life.
"If your bleeding is becoming heavier, you're feeling unwell in yourself, unable to carry out daily activities or your bleeding is irregular, then it's worth seeing your GP to discuss why this is happening and looking at treatment options."
Stress has been shown to cause heavier periods.
One particular study concluded that high-stress levels can lead to longer cycles with heavier bleeding.
However, most research tends to suggest that menstrual irregularities or painful periods are the most common impact of stress on periods.
One of the main causes of period irregularities is the menopause.
Dr Bryony says: “As we get older, the quality of our eggs declines, which is why the risk of miscarriage and chromosomal abnormalities increases.
"Your body also becomes less effective at producing progesterone, so your menstrual cycle might become shorter.
"This is usually the very first sign of perimenopause.
“Along with changes in the pattern of your periods, they may also become heavier.
"This can last until the menopause which is when your periods stop altogether.
"The average age in the UK is 51 but there is a wide range.
"If your periods stop before the age of 40, this is called premature menopause and you should speak to your doctor."
Long periods can signal unusual hormonal levels as a result of health conditions like polycystic ovaries or hypothyroidism.
Polyps, fibroids or adenomyosis can also cause trigger longer periods.
When should you seek help for long or heavy periods?
Dr Vanessa MacKay, consultant gynaecologist and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists talks us through when it's worth seeing an expert about your long cycle.
She says: "If a woman has had a longer or heavier period that is significantly different to what is normal for her and/or if her period lasts longer than 7 days, she should speak to her healthcare professional.
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"Heavy periods are common and can have a big impact on a woman’s life.
"There are various treatments for heavy periods, including contraception, medicines, and in some cases, surgery."
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