Long Menstrual Cycles? What You Should Know
Do you have a long menstrual cycle? While the average menstrual cycle is 28 days, normal menstrual cycles can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days in adults. Young teens can have menstrual cycles that range anywhere from 21 to 45 days.
The menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of one period to the first day of your next period, with most women experiencing menstrual flow for two to seven days. Your monthly cycle is controlled by the rise and fall of hormonal levels.
What’s considered a long menstrual cycle?
If your menstrual cycle consistently runs longer than 35 days, you have what is considered a long menstrual cycle, also known as oligomenorrhea. A long cycle often means that the ovaries aren’t producing hormonal events on a regular basis, perhaps running on a delayed schedule. Delayed ovulation can be caused by stress, anxiety or a hormonal imbalance. In some cases, a physical illness or too much exercise can cause delayed ovulation.
If you want to find out if delayed ovulation is behind your longer menstrual cycle, the first thing to do is to find out when you ovulate. If you have a 39-day cycle, you would expect to find that you ovulate on day 25 of your cycle. Any ovulation that happens after day 21 of the menstrual cycle is considered delayed ovulation.
Start keeping track of your ovulation by tracking your cycle. Ovulation typically happens about two weeks before your period starts. If you don’t have periods that happen like clockwork, you can look for other signs of ovulation, such as:
- A twinge or series of cramps on one side in your lower abdominal area. Twenty percent of women experience a slight pain, known as mittelschmerz, as the ovary releases an egg.
- Charting your temperature. You’ll need a special thermometer called a basal body thermometer to take your temperature as soon as you wake up in the morning. Your body will reach its lowest temperature at ovulation and then rise immediately by about half a degree as soon as ovulation occurs.
- Monitoring cervical fluid. During ovulation, the cervical fluid becomes clear and slippery with a consistency similar to raw egg whites. After ovulation, you’ll go back to normal cloudy, not-slippery discharge.
- Use an ovulation predictor kit. You can buy a kit that will predict when you’ll ovulate by monitoring the levels of luteinizing hormone in your body. It works similar to common pregnancy tests in that you just pee on a stick and wait for the result.
Delayed ovulation is often temporary and will correct itself over time. However, in some cases, medical attention may be required to address underlying problems.
What else causes long menstrual cycles?
Long menstrual cycles can have many different causes, including:
- Young age. For the first few years after menstruation starts, long cycles are common. Over time, they’ll shorten and become more predictable.
- Pregnancy or breastfeeding. A delayed period can be an early indication of pregnancy. Additionally, periods are usually delayed during breastfeeding.
- Eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa, extreme weight loss and excessive exercise can all wreak havoc on menstruation and may stop periods completely if body fat percentage is too low.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome. The small cysts that develop on the ovaries with this common hormonal disorder can cause irregular periods.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease. This infection of the female reproductive organs is a cause of irregular menstruation.
When to be concerned
There can be a lot of variety among menstrual cycles that’s still considered to be within the normal range. In most cases, what’s considered normal is what’s normal for you. Keeping track of the start date of your period for several months in a row will let you know what to expect. In addition to your period’s start date, consider tracking:
- Flow level. Is it light, heavy or medium?
- The length of your period. How many days did your period last?
- Any bleeding between periods.
- Pain level. Are you having worse cramps than usual?
Consult a doctor if:
- You don’t have a period for more than 90 days, and you aren’t pregnant.
- Your periods used to be regular, but now they’re not.
- You experience menstrual bleeding for more than seven days.
- You’re experiencing heavy bleeding and soak through more than one feminine hygiene product every hour or two.
- Your periods occur more frequently than every 21 days.
- Your periods occur less often than ever 35 days.
- You are experiencing bleeding between periods.
- You experience severe pain during menstruation.
If you know what’s normal for you, you’re better equipped to recognize when there may be a problem that needs attention. Regular pelvic exams can help make sure that any problems that are affecting your cycle are addressed as soon as possible.
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