Your menstrual cycle can have a lot to say about your health and fertility. Each woman’s menstrual cycle is different, creating a wide range or normal. But are there times you should be concerned about how your body is functioning? Definitely.
Your menstrual cycle can be a window into your health.
What is a regular menstrual cycle?
Each month, your body goes through a series of changes to prepare for the possibility of getting pregnant. These changes are called the menstrual cycle. The cycle includes ovulation—when an egg is released by the ovaries.
In conjunction with ovulation, hormonal changes work to prepare the uterus for implantation. When a woman ovulates, but the egg is not fertilized, the lining of her uterus falls away through the vagina.
This part of the cycle is called a menstrual period, most often referred to simply as a period. The Follicular phase happens just before ovulation when follicles in the ovary mature.
Since it’s the only readily visible sign of where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, the first day of her period is used to mark the start of it and it lasts until her next period begins. The exact timing varies from woman to woman, with regular menstrual cycles happening every 21 to 35 days.
Regular periods last anywhere from two to seven days. Long cycles are common from when a woman starts her period through the few following years. As she gets older, they are likely to shorten and become more regular.
“Normal” periods come in many forms. Your cycle may come like clockwork and last for the same amount of time each month.
Or it may be somewhat irregular and still “normal.” Some are light, some heavy, you may feel pain and others are pain free. They may be long or short. These variances do not necessarily mean your period is not normal.
Generally, having regular periods means what’s regular to you. Some contraception choices, like birth control and IUDs can alter your cycle.
Your doctor can tell you what to expect. Woman approaching menopause also experience changes in the menstrual cycle. This is normal and no cause for concern.
What is a short menstrual cycle?
A menstrual cycle that lasts less than 21 days is considered short.
Is a short menstrual cycle normal?
A woman’s menstrual cycle naturally shortens as she gets older and approaches menopause. For women who are still in childbearing years, a short menstrual cycle may indicate that you are not ovulating normally, which can make getting pregnant more difficult.
If you’ve always had short menstrual cycles, it may just be how your body functions. But if you have short menstrual periods combined with a difficulty conceiving naturally, you may want to check in with your doctor.
What causes a short menstrual cycle?
Your menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones, which can be influenced by many factors. If an imbalance of reproductive hormones caused by any number of factors occurs in the body, it may result in a short menstrual cycle.
Certain thyroid conditions, estrogen supplements, fibroids or polyps can all cause cycles that are shorter than normal.
How does stress affect menstrual cycles?
Stress plays a large role in many bodily functions and overall health. When the body experiences consistent or excessive stress it releases adrenaline and cortisol, which are stress hormones.
Adrenalines is the stress hormone that gives you an energy push and allows you to do things like pull an all nighter to get a project finished. Cortisol is the stress hormone that increases brain function and stops or slows nonessential bodily functions—digestive processes, cellular growth and the reproductive system.
Cortisol, derived from stress, is the culprit for why stress is linked to shorter menstrual periods. Cortisol can signal the brain to stop releasing reproductive hormones, interfering with ovulation and leading to shorter cycles. If cortisol levels are high and consistent enough, your menstrual cycle may stop all together.
How can I track my menstrual cycle?
You should begin tracking your menstrual cycle on the first day of your period for accurate results. You should capture when it starts and how long it lasts.
It will take several months for patterns to emerge, but you will be able to determine how regular—reminder this is a loose term—your menstrual cycle is. Knowing your menstrual cycle can also help time intercourse for conception. It should not be used to prevent pregnancy.
Does a short menstrual cycle affect fertility?
Oftentimes, menstrual cycles of less than 21 days indicate an issue with or absence of ovulation (“anovulation”). Short menstrual cycles affect fertility because if you do not ovulate, you cannot get pregnant.
Is a short menstrual cycle a cause for concern?
An abnormally short menstrual cycle may be a cause for concern if a) it’s less than 21 days long and/or b) you abruptly start having short cycles and are not approaching menopause.
When should you call your gynecologist about short menstrual cycles?
You should consult your doctor about short menstrual periods if they come on abruptly. Additionally, if you’ve always had short periods but then experience trouble getting pregnant, you should ask your doctor about it.
Why is your menstrual cycle getting shorter?
Your menstrual cycle may be getting shorter for many reasons. Menopause is the only “normal” reason that does not warrant a visit to the doctor. Other reasons include issues with ovulating and other reproductive health concerns.
Can a short menstrual cycle be a sign of pregnancy?
Getting what you think is your period early, which indicates a short menstrual cycle, could actually be an early pregnancy sign. Someone women get period-like symptoms shortly after conceiving and mistake them for their actual period.
Is it normal for menstrual cycle to change every month?
Even slight hormonal changes can affect your menstrual cycle. This is why variances in menstrual cycles, even when it seems to happen every month may still be normal.
That being said, no one but you and your doctor can make that determination. If things seem out of sync, especially if you notice a significant change in what was previously a pattern, you should consult your physician.
What causes menstrual cycle irregularities?
Menstrual cycle irregularities may be brought on by a variety of factors:
- Stress: As discussed above, stress causes the release of hormones (adrenaline and cortisol), which can influence other “non-essential” body functions like reproductive processes
- Extreme weight gain: Large, upward fluctuations in weight trigger the release of testosterone in the body, which can interfere with regular menstrual cycles
- Excessive exercise: Over exercising puts stress on the body, which can impact hormone levels. If you exercise yourself to an unhealthy weight, the lack of body fat may also hinder your body from maintaining a regular menstrual cycle
- Alcohol: Alcohol also impacts hormone levels and can put the body out of balance
- Smoking: Cigarettes can cause irregularities in your cycle, as well as severe PMS and pain during your period as it alters levels of reproductive hormones in the body
- Medical conditions: Serious conditions, such as PCOS and Thyroid Disease can cause significant month to month changes in your menstrual cycle
Can a short menstrual cycle cause early ovulation?
Not all woman who experience short cycles do not ovulate. Getting your period early may just be a sign of early ovulation and shorter Luteal phase, which occurs between ovulation and your period.
When do you ovulate with a short menstrual cycle?
If you ovulate and have a short cycle, you ovulate right after you period. This is why you are not guaranteed to stay childfree if you have sex during or just after your period.
What are the chances of getting pregnant with a short menstrual cycle?
Your chances of getting pregnant when you have a short menstrual cycle all depend on why your cycle is so short. It’s imperative to work with your doctor to identify the root cause.
If you naturally have a shorter cycle, getting pregnant on your own may not be a problem. But shorter cycles linked to things like stress, PCOS or Thyroid disease can make it more difficult to conceive.
Do menstrual cycles get shorter with age?
Periods generally get shorter as you approach menopause, but menstrual cycles do not necessarily change in length. It’s common for menstrual cycles to get very irregular as menopause approaches.
Are short menstrual cycles a sign of menopause?
Short or irregular menstrual cycles and periods are a common sign of menopause. If you are approaching an age when menopause usually occurs, short cycles are no cause for alarm.
However, you may want to talk to your doctor about treatment options should other menopausal symptoms come into play.
Can you prevent menstrual cycle irregularities?
Depending on the cause of your irregular cycle, they may be preventable. For example, diet and menstrual cycle are closely linked. Diets high in carbohydrates have been linked to causing irregular menstrual cycles.
Additionally, mitigating stress helps ward off irregular menstrual cycles.