The iconic Coco Chanel once said, “You can be gorgeous at thirty, charming at forty, and irresistible for the rest of your life.” And while those words are inarguably true—and proven every day by the inspiring, beautiful, and intelligent women all around us—there are also some biological realities that come with the aging process.
Most women in their mid to late 30s report changes to their bodies—whether it’s their tendency to gain weight more easily, their skin’s loss of elasticity or moisture, increases in libido, or changes to their menstrual cycle. The latter is often attributed to hormonal changes that occur naturally as we approach the age of 40. We women don’t produce as much progesterone as we age, which affects the number and quality of our ovarian follicles, causes a decline in estrogen, and changes our cycle length and flow.
But there are a number of other reasons our periods can change in our 30s, including:
1. Medical conditions such as thyroid disease and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can shift cycle length and heaviness of flow. This is one more reason to stay on top of your annual checkups and be proactive about your health—speak up and seek out expert help if something seems off.
2. Starting, stopping or changing birth control methods, particularly going on or off hormonal birth control methods such as the pill, shot, patch, and IUD, can cause some fluctuations in your cycles. Depending on which method you are using, the effects can persist for a cycle or two—it takes the body time to adjust.
3. Stress at home or work, including the many stressors we’ve all encountered over the past few years, can take a toll on your body and your menstrual cycle. If you’re noticing changes and believe they may be related to stress, this could be a signal from your body to take up a proven stress-relieving activity like meditation, yoga, or walking.
4. Weight fluctuations can also affect your cycle in your 30s. A significant or rapid drop in body weight can even lead to amenorrhea, the temporary disappearance of your period.
5. Gynecological conditions such as uterine fibroids or endometriosis—both of which are more likely to be diagnosed in your 30s—can affect your period. Just as you prioritize visits to your primary care physician, it’s also critical to make annual pilgrimages to your gynecologist for exams—and make sure to follow through on your scheduled pap smears, too.
Finally, it goes without saying that any significant or painful change in your period warrants an immediate trip to your doctor. If the changes are causing a drastic increase in your flow or a noticeable uptick in pain, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
While the physical, sexual, and reproductive changes we experience in our mid to late 30s may require some adjustment and acceptance, many women also report feeling a greater sense of emotional maturity, well-being, and wisdom in these years. If you’re like me and you experienced a lot of turbulent highs and lows in your teens and twenties, your 30s can feel practically serene by comparison. And for many, that emotional serenity and sense of self can help to offset the toll of any physical changes.
Dr. Erica Montes, MD, FACOG, is a board certified OB/GYN & pH-D Feminine Health Advisor.
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