Periods can be quite irksome as they are accompanied by cramps, PMS, irritation and mood swings. But they can also be comforting and provide relief to many women. Regular periods are a sign that everything inside the body is operating exactly as it should be. But quite often, some women may face irregularity in periods. Apart from pregnancy and hitting menopause, there could be a variety of factors that could cause irregularity or abnormality in menses. Doctors define periods as either ‘normal’ or ‘abnormal’ based on three criteria – how regular your cycles are, how long the bleeding lasts and how much you’re bleeding.

A normal bleeding lasts up to five to seven days, if it’s more than that it is considered as prolonged bleeding. A normal cycle requires you to change your pads three to four times a day, but if you are changing every hour then your bleeding is abnormally heavy. Start keeping a track of your periods, if you haven’t already done it. Below we tell you what the possible causes of irregular periods could be.

High Stress Levels: When you are undergoing a lot of stress, your body can start to conserve energy by preventing ovulation. Stress can suppress the hormones that regulate ovulation or the release of an egg from the ovaries. If ovulation doesn’t happen, a period won’t happen either. Stress can also contribute to hypothalamic amenorrhea (HA). When you don’t have a lot of estrogen – and levels of other hormones including luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) – fall below normal, you aren’t able to build up the uterine lining and therefore you don’t get your period.

Poor Diet: A diet low in nutrients, antioxidants and probiotic foods can affect your periods. Excess cortisol hinders the optimal function of many other essential hormones such as sex hormones. It can also lead to protein breakdown, resulting in muscle-wasting and potentially osteoporosis. A high intake of sugar, hydrogenated fats and artificial additives are linked with thyroid issues and adrenal fatigue that can raise cortisol. If you’re struggling with menstruation, make sure to eat right kind of food. Foods that are high in antioxidants, nutrient-dense and that contain plenty of fats and proteins.

Over-Exercising: To maintain a healthy lifestyle moderate exercising is essential but too much exercise can also put excess pressure on your adrenal, thyroid and pituitary glands. For example, women who suddenly start intense training for a marathon, high level of physical exertion can put a sudden halt to their periods. Physical exertion can increase stress and deplete the body energy needed to regulate sex hormones. Exercise-induced amenorrhea can be an indicator of an overall energy drain and is most common among young women.

PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance in women that negatively impacts ovulation. When a woman PCOS, she experiences altered levels of sex hormones that can result in weight gain, acne, facial hair growth and even irregular menstrual cycles. It can also cause infrequent or prolonged periods.

Low Body Weight: Body fat is important for creating enough estrogen, which is why extremely thing women or those with serious conditions like anorexia and bulimia can experience absent or missed periods. When your body mass index (BMI) falls below 18 or 19, you can start to miss your period due to having too little body fat. A low-calorie, low-fat diet can also result in nutrient deficiencies and lowered boy-fat percentages that may contribute to irregular periods and bone loss.

A one-off irregular period is not worrisome. If it is persistent and you’ve gone three cycles and it’s irregular, then it’s time to call your doctor. No matter how much women loathe ‘that time of the month’, we should be grateful that regular periods indicate that our bodies are performing to the mark. There are more possible reasons that can cause irregularities in periods, identify those factors, track your period calendar and do not miss to get in touch with your healthcare provider.

(The above story first appeared on LatestLY on Mar 31, 2018 06:34 PM IST. For more news and updates on politics, world, sports, entertainment and lifestyle, log on to our website