Do you have light periods and are trying to get pregnant?
When Is a Menstrual Period Too Short?
A short period may sound like a blessing, but it can also signal that something is off with your body.
By Melanie Winderlich
Medically Reviewed by Pat F. Bass III, MD, MPH
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For many women, having a period presents a challenge each month, whether it’s managing premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or just feeling out of sorts. Other women, however, have few symptoms at all because their natural cycle comes with a light, short menstrual period.
A short menstrual period might seem like a gift, but a light or irregular period could signal pregnancy, menopause, or even a serious medical problem.
Is a Short Menstrual Period Normal?
“Normal” menstruation can differ widely from woman to woman — anywhere from three to seven days of bleeding is considered normal, and each full menstrual cycle can last anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
Three days of bleeding, which may seem short, is still considered normal as long as you’re menstruating regularly. That means that every few weeks, an ovary releases an egg and estrogen builds a thick lining in the uterus called the endometrium, which the body will shed if fertilization doesn't occur. As long as a woman's short menstrual period is part of a steady pattern and fits within this range, this is normal menstruation for her body.
"If your period lasts for three days, month in and month out, that's your pattern," says Maria Arias, MD, a gynecologist at Atlanta Women's Specialists in Georgia.
Reasons for a Short Menstrual Period
Estrogen is the all-important hormone required to create the endometrium each month. If you do not produce a certain amount of estrogen, that lining won't be very thick and, when it is shed, "bleeding tends to be scant and for fewer days,” Dr. Arias says.
Younger women may have short and irregular periods as they enter puberty, because their hormone levels, including estrogen, haven't completely balanced out yet.
Older women approaching menopause may also experience irregular or short menstrual periods. As women age, their ovaries stop producing estrogen and progesterone and therefore the endometrium fails to form.
Doctors treating women of childbearing age who are experiencing irregular periods will check for abnormal causes like an ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg sits in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus. "If your period isn't coming on time, the first thing doctors rule out is pregnancy," says Arias.
A short menstrual cycle could also be due to the birth control method you use. Some of the more contemporary methods, like the hormonal intrauterine device that a doctor implants in the uterus, are designed to suppress the growth of the uterine lining, thus decreasing flow level. This is considered an additional benefit of some types of birth control.
Low weight, excessive exercising, eating disorders, and stress may also impact the duration and frequency of your menstrual periods.
When to Call Your Gynecologist About Short Menstrual Periods
If your irregular or short menstrual cycle is a new development and not your typical pattern, you may want to consult with your doctor. For example, says Arias, going 60 days without a period and spotting for just a few days is not normal.
Hormonal problems stemming from the pituitary gland and hypothalamus (which can affect ovarian functioning), thyroid dysfunction, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are just some of the conditions that can alter your menstrual cycle. Usually these conditions are accompanied by other symptoms, so look for other changes to alert your doctor about.
Keep track of your period in a journal or calendar if you're concerned about a menstrual cycle that's too short. This way you'll have the most accurate information to share with your doctor and will be able to easily detect a menstruation pattern that’s not normal for you.
Video: Short Menstrual Cycles: Lengthen Your Menstrual Cycle Naturally
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