Irregular menstrual cycles are a common complaint, and make up the majority of my cases regarding women’s health issues. Menstrual irregularity is a much more common condition than one would imagine. The number of women that experience this is usually put at 30% – 40% during their reproductive years; although, based on my clinical experience, I would say that the number is significantly higher. The reason for this is because a lot of women have experienced irregularities for such a long period of time, they consider it to be normal; and if the practitioner is not diligent in their questioning, this important information may not surface.
What’s the difference between a regular and an irregular period?
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, but this number is not absolute, because every woman’s cycle is a little different. For some women a normal cycle can last anywhere between 21 and 35 days, and can have a monthly variance of 1 to 2 days. When the period arrives, the average duration of bleeding is 5 consecutive days, but this can also vary, lasting between 2 and 7 days.
The range of menstrual irregularity, as it pertains to the interval of the cycle, is as follows: Deviations from a normal cycle where the interval is shortened and terminates 7 or more days earlier than a 28 day cycle; or a prolonged interval of 7 or more days beyond the 28th day; when there is a complete absence of a period, known as amenorrhea; or periods that are infrequent or unpredictable, and this is based on the assumption that the patient is not pregnant or approaching menopause. Other irregularities include any divergence in the duration of the period from what is considered “normal”. Noticeable changes in the amount of blood (heavy vs greatly reduced), and variations in the texture of the menses (clotting). What are the causes of irregular periods?
There are many different
causes for the menstrual cycle to become disrupted or irregular, but the 2 main
imbalances - can occur when estrogen
and progesterone become unbalanced.
There are many reasons for this, but just to name a few:
loss or gain
such as bulimia and anorexia
ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
2. Changes in contraception – An IUD (intrauterine device) can cause heavy bleeding, whereas taking contraceptive
pills can cause spot bleeding between periods.
Smoking which can
shorten both the follicular and luteal phases of the cycle
or caffeine intake
In Eastern medicine the disease process for menstrual irregularities is often caused by lifestyle choices that tax the organ systems. The main organs that are effected are the Liver, Spleen and Kidney, and indirectly the Heart. High levels of stress, poor diet, lack of sleep, smoking, and excessive consumption of alcohol and caffeine / energy drinks can greatly damage the Spleen, Liver and kidneys. The Liver in particular has a lot to do with menstruation, because it's responsible for storing blood, and the distribution of Qi and blood. If this mechanism becomes inhibited, the Qi can become stagnant (cramps, breast tenderness, rib-side pain, irritability), which leads to blood stasis (blood clots and sharp pain). In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) there are three very important meridians in the field of gynecology, these are the Ren Mai, Du Mai, and Chong Mai meridians.
In gynecology these meridians relate directly to the uterus as they pass through the lower abdominal region. The Ren and Chong meridians are directly related to blood and the uterus. Pathologically, if the Spleen and Kidney Yang become deficient due to improper diet or over-exertion, this upsets the ability of these organs to function, which causes a disruption in water metabolism. When this occurs there can be an accumulation of phlegm-damp which can sink down into the lower part of the abdomen obstructing the Ren and Chong meridians; and inhibiting the flow of blood.
Acupuncture and Chinese herbs
are very effective and a natural way to regulate the menstrual cycle. What they do is restore balance to energy
(blocked or deficient/Excessive), and sexual hormones which govern
menstruation. There have been many
studies that have illuminated the ability of herbs to adjust the levels of
hormones, whether too low or too high; as well as, regulating the menstrual cycle
in cases of infertility.
Chinese medicine will also relieve symptoms such as, pain, cramping and
fluctuations in mood, and correct pathological abnormalities like clotting,
discharge and color of the menses. Nutrition is also very important for correcting menstrual irregularities. Excess intake of refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup, additives & preservatives, etc., all promote inflammation and pain.