We're all affected differently when our 'time of the month' comes around, and some of us certainly have a worse time than others. But look at it this way; if it has to happen every month then shouldn't we try to get something out of it? Well, the good news is that your menstrual cycle can provide you with some helpful clues about your overall health status.
For example, new research by the American Heart Association has found that the risk of developing heart disease, stroke and high blood pressure complications was higher in women whose periods kicked in at the age of 10 or younger, or at 17 or older. Women who have their first period (menarche) at around 13, on the other hand, are considered to be at lowest risk of those conditions. Of course, this is probably more about correlation than causation. A young girl's lifestyle could lead to obesity, for example, which can trigger earlier periods, and excess weight may also cause poor health later in life. Indeed, research demonstrates that the average age of menarche is coming down with each generation, while obesity and poor health have statistically increased.
Your period can signpost a number of conditions; for example, irregular bleeding could be a sign of ovarian cancer. Of course it's unlikely to be anything as serious as that, but the point is that it's important to pay attention to the signals your body sends. A heavy flow can indicate endometriosis – a condition that causes cells outside of the womb to act like the womb lining. In some cases endometriosis can lead to infertility, as well as extreme pain, and being aware of the symptoms means you can seek treatment as soon as possible. If you have heavy periods you may also be anemic, so ask your doctor to test your iron levels.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) can cause irregular periods, as well as excess hair growth, oily skin and weight gain. It can even cause your periods to stop completely, as your ovaries may not be regularly releasing eggs. If you are experiencing these symptoms, speak to your doctor to find out if you have the condition.
A lot of things can affect your period and it's important to remember your body is all connected! Stress, weight loss or switching contraception can all cause changes with your period. If you feel like there is something strange about your menstrual cycle, however, even if it's been the norm for you for years, it's worth going to check it out.