The beginning stages of puberty are so fun, right? The awkwardness wasn’t enough. So we got hormonal breakouts, and these new-fangled cramps we have to deal with each month. Got it. As time goes on, we get to evolve out of these symptoms and slip into a predetermined routine that we can get used to, right again? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the pattern.
Many women experience worse periods as time goes on. A lot of us chalk it up to age, declining health, diet, and so on, and while that is all true, in a sense, there’s a bit more to it than that. We chatted with Dr. Nita Landry, board-certified OB-GYN and co-host of the Emmy award-winning TV show, The Doctors, who was able to give us some insight.
“One reason that periods can get worse is that older women have higher incidences of uterine structural abnormalities. For instance, uterine fibroids, which are benign tumors of the uterus, are more common in older women. And uterine fibroids can cause heavy, irregular, painful periods.” While uterine fibroids aren’t cancerous or super dangerous, they are incredibly annoying and uncomfortable. They can be small, like a seed, or they can get so big that they actually expand the uterus, causing a bloated appearance or even adding noticeable weight.
Sometimes it’s a hormonal shift, Dr. Landry explains. The menopausal transition is a strong example, though things can reach the level deemed “worse” long before that. “Typical hormonal changes that occur during the menopause transition can result in irregular menstrual cycles. Periods can get closer together or further apart. They can also become heavier or lighter as well as shorter or longer than they once were.” The menopause transition can last for months, or even years. It’s important to take charge of our reproductive health early on in order to pave a smoother transition at this time.
Sometimes, it feels like PMS symptoms seem to accumulate. “Older women are more likely to opt for non-hormonal birth-control options like tubal ligations or vasectomies. Then, they notice an increase in PMS symptoms (or heavier/ more painful periods) after they stop their hormonal contraception,” Dr. Landry shares. This is another type of hormonal recalibration.
“Sometimes, they forget what their periods felt like without the contraception—birth control pills are not only used for contraception, but they can also help some females out with heavy, painful periods or mood changes associated with their menstrual cycles.” This is, of course, for dire situations and when used responsibly as recommended by a physician.
It’s critical that we note these changes and pay attention to our body’s cries for help and attention. “Sometimes, people will become so accustomed to having extremely heavy or painful periods that they will assume it’s ‘normal.’ Therefore, people’s perception of ‘normal’ isn’t always accurate. If your vaginal bleeding or menstrual cramps are disrupting your daily life, talk to a healthcare provider. There are hormonal and non-hormonal options to help you get your symptoms under control. Most people who have irregular periods are having them due to a benign (non-cancerous) reason, but heavy, irregular periods can also be a sign of a precancer or cancer in the uterus (endometrial cancer).”
The short answer is not to WebMD yourself and have a breakdown. Pay attention to each symptom. If you feel that you’re experiencing extreme symptoms or debilitating pain, log your symptoms and see a professional who can help.