No two periods are the same (if you think of them like snowflakes, the mental image is so lovely!). That means that there is no such thing as normal or abnormal when it comes to having a healthy period.
I didn't get my first period until I was in 14. And, because I was younger than most of my classmates, that wasn't until 10th grade. I was the only girl in my class who didn't have my period, and I used to listen to the locker room complaints about cramps and headaches with a strange longing to be a part of the club. I wonder now, has anyone else has ever been so excited the first time she got her period?
Even though I thought I was pretty knowledgeable about this stuff, when I asked our Real Answers panelists to talk about what makes their periods different I was still surprised at how varied their answers were. Some of them had light, easy periods; others had periods that they described as unbearable. Some started at an early age, some didn't start until they were 15 or 16. What was amazing was that every single story was different.
"I have one of the lightest periods of all my girlfriends. It usually lasts only a few days, I'm rarely bothered by cramps, and even my boyfriend says that I don't go through monthly PMS orneriness (well, most of the time that is)." - Peer Panelist Kahley Emerson
Lucky! But it's good to know that periods don't have to be awful. I can tell you that mine isn't too bad either, at least in my opinion. I get cramps (usually beginning the night after the first day of my period), but they're easily treatable with some pain reliever and a heating pad. I've also been known to pick some choice fights with my boyfriend, and I tend to have acne flare-ups (and I'm 29!) a few days before. Still, it's nothing that shuts my life down in any way.
But, like the title of the article says, some of us have a very different experience.
"At first, my period was more than just an annoyance. Cycle after cycle, my cramps got worse and my flow became extremely heavy. I had horrible cramps throughout middle school and high school, and I remember nearly passing out from the pain one day in the shower." - Peer Panelist Leah Sipher-Mann
Leah saw her doctor and decided to start taking birth control pills, an option that some women choose to help regulate their periods and lessen side effects.
There are also a lot of differences in menstrual cycles. A lot of girls and women are led to believe that they're supposed to have a 28-day cycle. Yet most of our panelists don't (although you should always talk to your health provider if you have a significant change in your regular cycle, miss three or more periods in a row, have periods less than 21 days apart or that last for more than 9 days). Plus, quite a few of the panelists, including myself, admitted that they usually aren't the best at keeping track.
"My period has been short, light, and predictable when I've been on the pill; sporadic and heavy when I am not; and has taken a couple of nine month hiatuses," - Health Expert Panelist Dr. Elisabeth Morray
"As a teenager, having irregular periods for me meant that I could go months without one and then have a whopper and then have another one a few weeks later. Eventually I talked to my health professional about it and she helped me regulate my cycle and that made things a whole lot easier. She told me that even though my periods were irregular, lots of other girls have irregular periods too." - Health Expert Panelist Dr. Molly O'Shea
"My period has a mind of its own. I don't get it. As much as I hope that I can predict when it'll start (you know, save myself from having to toss yet another pair of panties away), it comes when it pleases." - Peer Panelist Mai Nguyen
"Mine, thank goodness is regular (every 28-30 days) and I ovulate right in the middle (about 14-15 days after the first day of my last period-looking backward-that's 14-15 days before the next one begins)." - Health Expert Panelist Sandy Knauf, R.N.
Things That Might Mess With Your Cycle
Sometimes medical issues can really affect your period, an issue that several of our panelists had experienced. As an adult, Mom Panelist Maggie Vink was diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition that causes the tissue that normally lines the uterus to grow outside of the uterus and cause uncomfortable symptoms like severe cramping and diarrhea along with your period.
She said that, while she can't be sure this is what caused her complicated and difficult periods as a young person, she suspects there's a link.
"For years I tried to hide the fact that my period was a little out of control. I got cramps, but they weren't the aching, annoying pains that my friends seemed to have. My cramps were extremely painful, so much so that I would often lie in my bed curled into a tight ball as if trying to squeeze the pain out of my body. I thought something was wrong with me. I felt that my friends were able to deal with the pain and I was just a wimp who couldn't handle it. What's more, my period sometimes stretched into 10 days or longer and at times the flow was so heavy, I couldn't contain it. Suffice it to say that period blow-outs in the eighth grade don't do much for your social life. As a trade off for my awful periods, I often skipped a month or two and, strangely enough, I viewed that as a silver lining. Clearly something wasn't right, but I was too scared to ask for help so I just learned to live with it."
Since being diagnosed, Maggie's worked with her health professional to manage her symptoms and help get her periods more under control.
There are a lot of things that can affect your cycle, including pretty routine factors like stress, travel, and weight loss and weight gain. And those are just a few on a long list. So, it makes sense to know what's routine for your own body, but also to know that you don't have to freak out at the first sign of any change. If your period is different from your best friend's, it may be nothing to worry about. Still, if you're concerned, don't be shy about asking your health care provider or our Real Answers team about it.
It is important to note that there are health reasons that may stop your period, or prevent you from getting it in the first place. If you don't have your first period by age 16, if your period has stopped for 3 or more months and you aren't pregnant, or if you experience any major changes, pain, excess bleeding, you should talk to your health provider immediately.
@katie123:When you first start your period is it normal for it to last longer than seven days? When you first start, there really is no normal -- and it can last longer than 7 days. How long it lasts or how often it comes or how heavy it is really is diff" - Conny, UBK Panelist
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