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How to Safely Start or Stop a Period, and Answers to Other Common Questions

From irregular periods to inducing or stopping a period, Dr. Beth Schwartz shares answers to frequently asked questions about menstrual cycles.

When it comes to having your period, sometimes women are a little embarrassed to ask questions and find themselves searching for answers while wondering, “Is this normal?”

Dr. Beth Schwartz, a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist at Jefferson, previously discussed how pandemic stress could be affecting periods. For this article, she shares that what you’re feeling is normal and answers some of the intimate questions many may have involving their menstrual cycles.

What causes an irregular period?

It takes coordination of many different parts of the body, from the brain to the ovaries to the uterus, to make regular periods. When anything, including medications or stress, interferes with this process, periods can become irregular. They can be late or completely skipped or be much shorter or longer than usual because they don’t know when to start or stop themselves in a normal, controlled way.

Is it possible to induce your period? 

Absolutely. For people who haven’t had a period in more than three months or women trying to get pregnant who need to induce a period to be able to start fertility medications, there are short-term medications that we can use to induce a period. It’s unlikely that this will train your body to start having regular periods again. It will make sure that the lining of the uterus does not keep building up, which can lead to prolonged periods or even abnormal cells that can lead to cancer of the uterus over time.

Is it safe to start or stop a period?

This is something women ask a lot, and yes, it is safe to stop periods. Hormonal medication can be used to stop periods, space them out, or improve them. These medicines prevent the lining of the uterus from getting too thick or even from forming at all. It is safe to take medication to prevent a period without having any long-term effects. When you stop a hormonal medication, your body goes right back to doing what it was doing before any medication within a few months at most.

How can you make your periods shorter? Is there a type of medication or birth control that can help this?

This is a very common complaint. Long, heavy, or painful periods, or any type of issue with periods can be improved with hormonal or “birth control” medicine. There is a variety of different options that can improve periods, including pills, shots, implants, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Which one someone chooses is a very personal decision. It depends on what things are most important to her, including bleeding patterns, side effects, and whether she will remember to take a pill every day.

Should you be worried about early periods when on birth control?

In theory, this shouldn’t happen, but it happens all the time. There is no clear reason why it happens for some people, but it may be that they are still adjusting to a new medication. If a woman is on the pill and misses a pill, she may have irregular bleeding or her period early. Sometimes, it could mean that someone isn’t on the right pill or method for her. Not every pill or method is the right choice for every woman, and sometimes it takes some trial and error to find one that works well for her.

Is it normal to miss a period? 

It is not normal to miss a period, but it is incredibly common. Most of the time, this doesn’t mean anything serious or dangerous. My usual rule is not to worry about anything that happens once, as long as we rule out something like pregnancy that would be dangerous to miss. Otherwise, sometimes your body “forgets” to ovulate because you’re stressed, on a new medication, have a lifestyle change, have fluctuations in weight of more than five to 10 pounds, are approaching menopause, or a variety of other reasons. Occasionally, it can be a sign that there’s something more going on, so I care more about what the missed period represents and less about the period itself.

When is it time to call a doctor? 

The most important thing I can say is that it’s always the right time to call your doctor or send a message through a patient portal. We may say, “Everything’s fine; keep an eye on it,” but it’s never wrong to check in with your doctor if you’re worried about anything in terms of whether it’s dangerous or not. If a period is very late or irregular, doctors may want to make sure that women don’t have issues that can lead to other problems like anemia or trouble getting pregnant.

Do you have a message for women going through trouble with their period to let them know that they’re not alone in this?

I think that women tend not to talk about periods much, or they only talk about them if there’s a major problem. So, I think that people don’t realize how common problems with periods are. Sometimes patients don’t bring something up until we ask about it. There are many things we can do to evaluate and help manage irregular or bothersome periods. That’s one of the reasons why it’s important for women to see their OB/GYN every year—even if they don’t need a Pap test or aren’t having a specific problem.

From the Experts, Healthy You