What’s a Normal Period?

1. I don’t have a normal period. Every so often, I don’t get my period–and I’m not pregnant. Is that normal?

Don’t fret if your cycle isn’t constant all the time. “Many women skip at least one period a year,” says Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University School of Medicine. “It just means you didn’t ovulate that month.” The likeliest reason: stress, which can interfere with the release of hormones that trigger ovulation.

But if you don’t get your period between now and spring break–and you’re definitely not knocked up–see your doctor, Minkin says. “Conditions like polycystic ovarian syndrome [a hormone imbalance marked by the overproduction of testosterone] or a thyroid disorder can interrupt ovulation.” If you’re trying to get pregnant, your doc can give you a drug that will stimulate your ovaries.

2. I always get diarrhea right before my period. Am I normal?

Ah, the other flow. As common as it is gross, premenstrual diarrhea can be blamed on prostaglandin, a chemical released during your period. “It contracts the walls of your uterus [that explains the cramps] as well as your intestines,” Minkin says. “Some people make more prostaglandin, while others are just more sensitive to it.” But there is a cure: Pop a couple of ibuprofen a day or two before your period starts. “The drug interferes with the body’s production of the chemical,” Minkin says.

3. Some days, my flow is so heavy that I bleed through a tampon–and my jeans. Am I normal?

If you witness a scene straight out of CSI once a year or so, it’s nothing to worry about, Minkin says. But if it’s happening several months in a row, a 10-gallon flow could be a sign of endometriosis (when the uterine lining grows out into the pelvic cavity) or fibroids, muscular tumors that grow on the walls of the uterus. Both conditions can cause infertility if left untreated, so have your ob-gyn check it out. She’ll likely order an ultrasound, plus a blood test to be sure you’re not at risk for anemia. Birth control pills can offer relief, but in severe cases, your doc may prescribe surgery to alter the lining of the uterus or to cut off blood flow to tumors.

4. I spot between periods. Is this normal?

Analyze the spotting. We’re not talking a Rorschach test–just note when and how much you’re bleeding. “Normal spotting occurs midcycle and lasts for about a day,” says Loren Frankel, M.D., of Palmetto Women’s Health in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. But if you’re essentially getting a second period every month or if the bleeding comes with severe cramps, you could have ovarian cysts. An ultrasound can help your doctor diagnose the problem. Cysts often go away on their own, but in some cases surgery is required to remove them.

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