Your menstrual cycle can reveal a lot about you. That’s because the hormones involved affect more than just your period—they can also play a part in regulating your mood, energy levels, ability to cope with stress, and more. As a result, being in tune with your cycle can be a smart way to monitor your health and well-being. Below, check out four clues that could be hidden in your menstrual cycle and what they might mean.
Health Clue: You’re not getting your period
What it Could Mean: You’re over-exercising, under-eating, or both
While pregnancy is the most common cause of amenorrhoea—missing at least three periods in a row—there are several other factors that can cause a premenopausal woman’s period to stop, including over-exercising, under-eating, or both. These behaviors, which are seen in both recreational exercisers and elite athletes, can lead to low energy availability, a condition that occurs when the body receives too few calories to fuel its day-to-day processes and goes into conservation mode.
To get a better understanding of how your diet and exercise habits may be affecting your cycle, log your data in the Fitbit app. Think you may be already experiencing amenorrhoea? See your doctor to help pinpoint the cause and appropriate treatment.
Health Clue: Painful periods
What it Could Mean: Endometriosis
Many women experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS)—a group of symptoms that usually start about a week before menstruation—at some point in their lives. And while symptoms like cramps, bloating, and irritability are common, excruciating pain shouldn’t be part of the equation. If you’re experiencing intense pain at any point during your menstrual cycle, it could be a sign of endometriosis, a pelvic disorder that affects as many as one in 10 women of reproductive age, worldwide.
Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that normally lines the inside of a woman’s uterus grows outside of it. This abnormal tissue acts just like uterine tissue, meaning it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds, but because it can’t be shed through the uterus, it can negatively affect organs in the pelvic region, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and lining of the pelvis, and this can cause inflammation, scarring, adhesions, pain, and, in some cases, infertility. Endometriosis and other conditions that cause painful periods are serious, so talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing intense discomfort.
Health Clue: Large menstrual blood clots
What it Could Mean: A hormonal imbalance, fibroids, or polyps
Menstrual blood clots the size of a 20-cent piece or smaller are fine, but if you’re passing clots the size of an egg or larger, see your doctor. Large clots can be a sign of a hormonal imbalance in your thyroid or pituitary glands or a growth in the uterus such as fibroids or polyps. Because large blood clots often walk hand in hand with a heavy flow, women experiencing both should also speak with their doctor about whether blood testing for anemia is also necessary.
Health Clue: Irregular periods
What it Could Mean: You’re too stressed
Stress appears to affect menstrual cycles, though experts aren’t sure why. Research shows that women under stress may notice that their cycles are longer or shorter and that their periods are unpredictable or absent, though in each study researchers were unable to rule out other causes. Early research also suggests that too much stress can exacerbate perimenstrual symptoms, which occur before and during your period, and make conditions such as endometriosis worse.
The good news is, there are many ways you can try to manage stress. Practicing better sleep habits, incorporating mindfulness or meditation into your day (Fitbit’s Relax feature is a great place to start), and getting regular exercise can support a more balanced approach to life and may help you get some of your stress under control.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.