The monthly periods cycle :
Thousands of women visit their doctors each year suffering period problems. Many more probably suffer in silence. Gone are the old wives' tales of turning the milk sour, making bees die or rusting iron when we have our periods, but all too many women are ignorant about just what is normal and when to seek help. Keeping a menstrual diary is the first step of knowing what is "normal" for your body. The variation between women is enormous and the 28-day cycle is a bit of a myth, and most women experience irregularities in cycle length, amount of bleeding etc from time to time throughout their lives.
Lack of periods (Amenorrhoea)
Unless you are pregnant or breast-feeding, there are two types of amenorrhoea. Primary, when your periods have never started and secondary, when they have been apparently normal and then stop. Given the enormous range in cycles in those of us who are perfectly healthy, unless your symptoms are especially marked and/or you are trying to conceive there may be no need to seek help. However, despite the fact that many of us dislike them, not having our periods can create the uneasy feeling of things somehow not being quite as they should be.
If you haven't started your periods by the time you are 16 18, you may need special tests to see what is causing the delay. Causes can include hormone imbalances, insufficient body fat because of dieting, stress or other emotional problems and heavy exercising. Only occasionally is the condition a result of congenital abnormalities, for which little can be done by orthodox or alternative medicine.
For periods that have stopped, hormonal disturbances affecting the thyroid gland, extreme weight loss (for example anorexia), drugs such as those used to treat high blood-pressure or cancer, coming off the Pill, and a few rare diseases such as pituitary tumours are the most common medical reasons.
Conventional treatment consists of testing to find out why you aren't having your periods, plus hormone treatment or drugs to stimulate the hormone producing centres in the brain. Very occasionally if the problem is thought to be psychological, you may be offered tranquillisers or anti-depressants. If the reason is premature ovarian failure you will probably also be experiencing menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes or vaginal dryness. In these cases HRT (hormone replacement therapy) may be offered to help and also prevent the onset of osteoporosis, the brittle bone disease that affects some women after the menopause.
Alternative treatments for Amenorrhoea
Alternative treatment is available of course and herbal treatment, for example, can be highly effective. A number of herbs can be used to redress the hormone imbalance where this appears to be the problem. Yoga and acupuncture can be helpful in reducing stress and some women find aromatherapy, combined with herbal treatment or one of the other mind/body therapies, can often help to get you back to your normal rhythm.
Heavy periods (menorrhagia)
Again, it is difficult to say what is normal since the amount of blood-loss varies from women to woman. You will know what is normal for you and if there is a sudden increase in the amount of blood lost or if you are passing large clots for instance, then seek help. Among the most common reasons are hormonal imbalances, fibroids or polyps, endemetriosis, obesity, stress and very occasionally cancer. If there is no apparent cause for heavy bleeding, known as "dysfunctional uterine bleeding", it will most likely occur during the early years of your periods and if you are over 35 and often accompanies cycles in which no egg is produced.
Heavy irregular bleeding or bleeding that starts after you have completed the menopause could be serious and you should always seek the advice and help of your doctor.
The orthodox treatment for menorrhagia consists of hormone treatment, the Pill, drugs that inhibit prostaglandin synthesis or drugs that increase the strength of the capillary walls. The problem is that since these don't treat the underlying causes, your heavy periods will probably return once you stop taking the therapy. Sometimes where periods are extremely heavy and don't respond to treatment, a hysterectomy is performed.
As a first step towards self-help and having ruled out more serious problems, pay close attention to your diet. Shortages of iron, zinc, vitamin B and vitamin A have all been suggested as causes of excessive bleeding. Supplements of these may help, but beware of dosing yourself with large amounts of vitamin A without supervision as it can be toxic if taken in too high a dosage. It would be better to consult a nutritional practitioner for help with dietary control. Food intolerance may also be a factor for some women, and if you are being treated for candidiasis you may notice your periods temporarily becoming heavier before settling down as treatment progresses.
Stress measures already mentioned above will help you relax. Meditation and yoga can be especially useful and both acupuncture and osteopathy can help. Homeopathy too has several useful treatments and herbal remedies that rebalance the hormones can also be used.
Aromatherapy treatment might include baths and massage of the lower back with oils such as cypress, geranium and rose.