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Problem periods (text-version)

Period ProblemWhy see the doctor?

I’m 15, but haven’t gotten my period yet

  • If you have not started your period and you are 15 or it has been 3 or more years since your breasts first started to grow, you could be dealing with delayed (late) puberty. Sometimes delayed puberty is caused by a problem like poor nutrition. For most women, puberty will happen in time and no treatment is needed.
  • Not getting your period or not having one each month can be a sign of a problem with your hormone levels called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can also cause weight gain, a lot of facial hair, pain in your pelvic area, and bad acne. Learn more about PCOS.

My period doesn’t follow a schedule at all

When you first get your period, it is normal to have some months when you don’t have a period, or even months when you have 2 periods. If your periods don’t get regular over time, you may have a health problem.

  • You could have the hormone condition polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS can cause you to miss periods or stop getting your period, or have bleeding at times when you aren’t supposed to have your period. PCOS can also cause weight gain, a lot of facial hair, pain in your pelvic area, and bad acne. Learn more about PCOS.
  • Irregular bleeding also could be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. PID is commonly caused by chlamydia and gonorrhea, diseases passed on through sexual contact. If you have pain in your lower stomach, bleeding in between periods, or fluid coming from your vagina that has a bad odor, see your doctor right away for treatment. If you do not treat PID, it can hurt your ability to have babies later in life.
 

My cramps are bad

You may have:

  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), which includes cramps, bloating, and other common, uncomfortable feelings
  • Dysmenorrhea (say: dis-men-uh- REE-uh), which comes with very painful cramps and possibly  pain down your legs, throwing up, diarrhea, dizziness, and headaches.

Even though PMS and dysmenorrhea can be a normal part of having your period, be sure to see your doctor for tips on feeling better and to make sure you do not have a serious health problem, like endometriosis (say: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs).

Endometriosis happens when tissue that is supposed to grow in the uterus grows outside it. Along with cramps, endometriosis can also cause heavy periods, long-lasting pain in your pelvic area and lower back, bleeding between periods, and diarrhea during periods.

My lower back and/or legs hurt

You may have PMS or dysmenorrhea (say: dis-men-uh-REE-uh), painful cramps caused by muscle movements of your uterus during periods. Things that can put you at risk for dysmenorrhea include smoking, being overweight, and starting your period before age 11. Other signs of dysmenorrhea are pain down your legs, throwing up, diarrhea, being tired, weakness, and fainting.

Lower back pain could be a sign of endometriosis (say: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs), which is when tissue from your uterus grows outside of it.
 

I am sick to my stomach (throwing up and/or diarrhea)

You may have PMS or dysmenorrhea (say: dis-men-uh- REE-uh), painful cramps caused by muscle movements of your uterus during periods. Things that can put you at risk for dysmenorrhea include smoking, being overweight, and starting your period before age 11. Other signs of dysmenorrhea are  pain down the legs, being tired, weakness, fainting, and headaches.

I get headaches

You may have PMS or dysmenorrhea (say: dis-men-uh-REE-uh), painful cramps caused by abnormal muscle movements in your uterus during periods. Things that can put you at risk for dysmenorrhea include smoking, being overweight, and starting your period before age 11. Signs of dysmenorrhea other than headaches are pain down your legs, throwing up, diarrhea, being tired, weakness, and fainting.

I am no longer getting my period

When you stop getting your period, it is called amenorrhea (say ay-men-uh-REE-uh). If you have had sexual intercourse, you will need to see your doctor to find out if you are pregnant.

If you know you are not pregnant and have not had your period for 3 to 6 months, you will need to see your doctor to find out why your periods have stopped. The following things can cause your period to stop:

  • Eating disorders
  • Over-exercising
  • Stress
  • Certain medicines (chemotherapy, used to treat cancer, and some antidepressants, used to treat depression and other health problems)
  • Problems with your thyroid and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a hormone condition that causes weight gain, pelvic pain, bad acne, and irregular periods

While amenorrhea may be caused by a health problem that needs to be treated, there are some things you can do to try to keep your periods on a regular schedule:

  • Keep a healthy body weight for your height
  • Ask your parents/guardian or doctor for help controlling stress if you feel overwhelmed
  • Stay away from drugs and alcohol
  • Do not smoke

My period is really heavy

Heavy periods can be a sign of endometriosis (say: en-doh-mee-tree-OH-suhs), a common disease among women. Endometriosis happens when tissue that is supposed to grow in the uterus grows outside it. Along with cramps, endometriosis can also cause heavy periods, long-lasting pain in your pelvic area and lower back, bleeding between periods, and diarrhea during periods.

Very heavy periods may also be a sign of a bleeding disorder. There are many types of bleeding disorders, but they are pretty rare. These disorders usually happen when the blood has too little of what it needs to clot (get thick) or when there’s a problem with blood vessels, like veins.

You might want to talk with your doctor about a bleeding disorder if you have very heavy menstrual periods, especially starting with your first period. You should also talk to the doctor if you have had problems with the following:

  • Easy bruising
  • Nosebleeds that last a long time and happen often
  • Heavy bleeding that lasts a long time after minor cuts or dental work
The most common bleeding problem in girls and women is von Willebrand's disease, or VWD. This disorder runs in families, so your mother, sister, female cousins, or aunts also might have some of the signs listed above. To find out if you have this disorder, you will need special blood tests.

I have horrible acne

Having acne is a normal part of being a teen. If you have bad acne on top of irregular periods, a lot of facial hair, weight gain, and pelvic pain, you may have a problem with your hormone levels called PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). When you first get your period, it is normal to have some months when you don’t have a period, or even months when you have 2 periods. Your periods should become more regular (once a month) over time. But PCOS can cause you to miss periods or stop getting your period, or even bleed at times when you aren’t supposed to have your period. Learn more about PCOS.

 

Content last reviewed October 13, 2010
Page last updated October 31, 2013

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

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