The truth about periods

Bloating, heavy bleeding and blood clots ... eek! DOLLY Doctor Melissa answers all the period questions you were too embarrassed to ask.

12:0AM, Nov 15

Q How long is the average menstrual cycle?

A "A menstrual cycle (your period, ovulation and hormonal changes) is measured from the first day you get your period to the first day of your next period. The average cycle is 28 days, with a normal cycle 21&#4535 days."

Q What if I get my period twice during one menstrual cycle?
A "It might be a one-off, but if you're sexually active, it's important to consider whether you could be pregnant or have an STI. Neither of these things cause extra periods, but, sometimes, what appears to be a period is actually abnormal bleeding caused by an infection or pregnancy. If you're not pregnant and don't have an STI, but are getting periods too frequently, keep a diary for a while, then see your GP. It could just be a hormonal imbalance and may not mean a thing."

Q When I get my period, it often lasts for more than seven days. Is that normal?
A "The average length of a period is five to six days, but some girls' periods do last seven days or more. In fact, it happens to up to 20 per cent of women. If your period is long but not overly heavy, it's probably nothing to worry about. If the flow remains heavy for seven days or more, then excessive blood loss, which can lead to iron deficiency and anaemia, is the main concern."

Q Can you miss a period without being pregnant?
A "It can be perfectly normal to miss a period. Your menstrual cycle may not become regular until a couple of years after you get your first period, then, when it does finally settle down, you may still miss the odd one. That said, not getting your period may be a sign of diet issues, stress or other illnesses. If you're worried, see your GP."

Q How much blood will I lose each period?
A "The average amount of blood lost during a period is about 35ml, so it's actually not that much! Some girls bleed twice as much as others &#45 up to 80ml is considered normal. Your period will be heaviest the first few days, then lighter for a few days, then it should stop. But, again, this differs for each girl &#45 and can change from month to month."

Q Is my period the right colour?
A "Menstrual flow contains blood and tissue from the lining of the uterus, so it should always be a dark red or reddish&#45brown colour. How light or dark it is can vary, and sometimes there's clear mucous mixed in, too. The secretions from the vagina and cervix during your menstrual cycle are white or yellow, and change in consistency and colour throughout your cycle (however, you shouldn't get any other discharge from the vagina during your period). Funny&#45coloured flow may still be normal, unless we're talking about totally random colour, like green, grey or purple! If your period is a really strange colour, then it's important to look out for any signs of an infection (things like a smell, itch or any pain)."

Q I think I have blood clots in my period. Is that okay?
A "Blood clots are often associated with heavy periods, and getting them frequently can lead to anaemia (which can make you feel tired). It can be hard to tell what a blood clot is and sometimes what looks like a clot is actually tissue from the uterus lining. A blood clot is dark red and jelly-like in texture. If you think you get blood clots when you have your period, you might want to discuss it further with your doctor. They might suggest taking the pill, which can help with heavy bleeding."

Q What if my period suddenly becomes heavy or light?
A "It could mean nothing, but it depends whether anything else is going on. A change in your period after you've had unprotected sex is a good reason to take a pregnancy test. If you have to change your pad or tampon more than every three hours, it's worth seeing a doctor."

Q I'm 17 and still don't have my period. what should I do?
A "This is later than the average age most girls get their period (anywhere between nine and 15) and, although it might be because you're a 'late bloomer' (you started puberty late), you still deserve to be checked out by your doctor."

Q Is it normal to feel grumpy before I get my period?
A "Many girls experience a change in mood before they get their period. As well as moody, you may feel irritable, bloated, have tender breasts, and get breakouts, headaches and lower-back pain. Some girls also report food cravings or increased appetite. PMS and PM -which is more common in women in their 20s and 30s- can be very distressing for some girls and mild for others, while many girls won't get any symptoms at all. There are vitamin, herbal and prescription treatments, as well as the pill, that help reduce the symptoms of PMS. If you think you're getting PMS, keep a diary of your periods and symptoms for a few months, then see a doctor."

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