Menstruation is something women just have to deal with, but the bottom line is that your period should never keep you from doing the things you need to do, says ob-gyn Jenny Jaque. Don’t ignore these five issues—they could be symptoms of something more serious.
1. Your flow is super heavy. This could be a sign of a bleeding disorder, which obviously might be dangerous. If you soak through a tampon or pad once per hour for more than three hours, are passing blood clots, or bleed for more than eight days in a row, talk to your doctor as soon as you can. Also watch out if you feel extremely tired or have a racing heart when you exert yourself—these could be the result of all that blood loss.
2. You barely bleed at all. A period that is extremely light (or doesn’t come at all) could be a sign of a few different health problems. If you are an athlete and training hard—or you’re extremely underweight—your period may stop, and that could be bad for you body down the line. If you find you are overweight and have acne or facial hair, you could have polycystic ovarian syndrome. Either way, go in for a checkup.
3. You never know when it’s going to show up. During the first year of your period, some unpredictability is normal. After that, though, things should even out: You should get your period every 21 to 45 days and it should last fewer than seven days. If you’re bouncing all over the calendar, it’s time to call in the pros.
4. It’s late—like, years late. If you’ve reached the age where most of your friends have started their periods and you haven’t, it may be a sign that something is not quite right with your hormones. Go see the doc if you’ve entered high school without your first period, or you are 16 and you don’t have any signs of puberty yet, like developing breasts.
5. It hurts. A lot. Cramps and discomfort are par for the course (unfortunately). But we’re talking about the kind of pain that keeps you from getting out of bed—and not in a fun,Revenge-marathon kind of way. If you are debilitated by your pain, or have severe cramping or nausea, it may be a sign of other health problems. Definitely get some time with the gynecologist on the books.