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Problem periods

Feeling ill.

It’s common to have cramps or feel uncomfortable when you have your period. And it’s common to sometimes have periods that don’t come on a regular schedule when you first start getting them. So how do you know when there’s a problem? It can help to learn what’s usual for you:

  • How painful are your cramps each month? Are they usually the same each time? If they get much worse, they may be a sign of a problem.
  • What days of the month do you get your period? How long do they last? (Use the Cycle Calendar to track your periods.)
  • What is your stress level like when you get your period? Are you just a little more stressed around the time of your period, or do you feel like you can’t cope at all with school and family issues?
  • How heavy is your blood flow? You can tell how heavy it is by how many times you have to change your pads or tampons.

Answering these questions can help you figure out what your periods are usually like. If you see changes or if you feel like you need help with pain or uncomfortable feelings, talk with your parents/guardian about making an appointment to see your doctor. Having answers to the questions above also can help when you talk to your doctor.

What can affect my period?

  • Stress. If you are under a lot of stress, your periods might stop for a bit, but they usually begin again when your stress level goes down.
  • Exercise. Too much exercise can cause your body fat to be very low, which can cause your periods to stop. This can happen if you are training hard for sports or if you are exercising a lot on your own. You might find this confusing, since you often hear that exercise is good for you. It is good for you — as long as you don’t overdo it. How do you know if you are exercising too much? If you are over-tired or get injured often, you may be overdoing it.
  • Hormone problems. In a normal menstrual cycle, your hormones — or natural body chemicals —  go up and down. Sometimes there are problems with hormones. One common hormone condition that causes period problems is PCOS, or polycystic ovary syndrome. Read our information on PCOS for teens, and see your doctor if you think you may have PCOS.

When to see a doctor

You should talk to an adult you trust and/or see a doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • You have not gotten your period by the age of 15 or within three years of when your breasts started to grow
  • It has been three months or more since your last period and you haven’t gotten it again
  • You are bleeding for more days than usual or more than seven days
  • Your bleeding is very heavy
  • You suddenly feel sick after using tampons
  • You bleed in between periods or with sex (more than just a few drops)
  • You have very bad pain during your period

You should contact your doctor about any period problems — and not just so you can feel more comfortable but because problems could be a sign of a health issue that needs to be taken care of. For example, strong pain during your period could be a sign of endometriosis, which happens when tissue from your uterus grows outside it. Also, missing your period could mean that the health of your bones is at risk, since both are affected by the same hormone. If you’re sexually active, it’s important to go to the doctor right away if you think you might be pregnant.

Use the chart below to learn more about common period problems. Click on a concern to learn more!

(If the tool above does not appear, please take a look at our text version of this tool. Viewing the above requires the Adobe Flash Player.)


Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated April 09, 2014

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.