New Zealand gynaecologist answers 'what exactly is normal when it comes to periods?'

Professor Cindy Farquhar answers our questions on everything to do with menstrual cycles.
Professor Cindy Farquhar answers our questions on everything to do with menstrual cycles. Photo credit: Getty Images

From how long a period should last to how much a woman should bleed, an expert answers questions about a woman’s menstrual cycle.

By the time a woman is 30, she would have had approximately 230 periods.

That's 230 instances of sneaking pads and tampons into the school or workplace toilet and sometimes, 230 instances of embracing 'granny undies' while avoiding white pants.

While that 'time of month' is something that is such a normal part of a woman’s life, what exactly is 'normal' when it comes to periods?

As part of Newshub's series on women’s health, Auckland gynaecologist, Professor Cindy Farquhar answers our questions on everything to do with menstrual cycles.

What is the average age a female first gets her period?

About 12-13 years old. One hundred years ago it was around 14 or 15 years old, but it’s now dropped.

What do you define as 'normal' when it comes to period cycles and length?

Anything between a cycle of getting your period every 21 - 35 days.

Usually no longer than 7 days of bleeding and no bleeding in between cycles.

If your cycle is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35, what could that mean?

If your cycle is shorter than 21 days it could indicate uterine polyps or fibroids.

Some women have erratic and unpredictable bleeding and it’s usually because they don’t ovulate regularly. That could indicate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome.

But if your cycle is longer than 35 days that can also indicate Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Other reasons for a longer cycle could be because a woman is over or underweight or has elevated hormone levels.

What exactly is “normal” when it comes to periods?
What exactly is “normal” when it comes to periods? Photo credit: Getty Images.

What is normal in terms of blood loss?

The first 2-4 days will be heavier and then it will ease off.

A woman will usually lose between up to 80 mls of blood per cycle but no one measures that amount.

The average amount of blood loss is 30mls which is actually about 2-3 tablespoons of blood.

If a woman is changing her pad or tampon hourly that’s too heavy and is not normal.

What are some of the reasons for heavy periods?

Fibroids within the endometrial cavity which are growths in the uterus and are usually non-cancerous can make periods heavier.

Being overweight can also make periods heavier as fat cells produce hormones and if you’re over-producing estrogen into your system this would make your periods heavier.

Unfortunately for women who are overweight, their fat cells are making estrogen which can contribute to a number of reproductive problems and leads to a build-up of the lining of the uterus and heavy periods.

Polyps could be another reason as could Adenomyosis.

Anything that makes the lining of the uterus bigger will lead to more bleeding.

Should periods be painful?

About 70 percent of teenagers will have painful periods. There's a spectrum and there’s women with mild pain and then women who have crippling pain which makes them faint and vomit and take time off school and work. 

If the pain is crippling, that needs to be investigated to check for conditions like endometriosis. More women will have mild pain as opposed to severe pain.

Should a period disrupt your daily life?

A normal period shouldn’t really interfere with daily life.

But for many women this is not the case and periods can be disruptive to a woman’s work and personal life.

If needed, there are treatments that can be offered to prevent it interfering with daily life.

What is the average age that a woman finishes her period in New Zealand?

Around 51-52 years old but 10 percent of women will go through menopause before they are aged 45.

If you feel your period isn’t normal, what should you do?

See your GP or gynaecologist who can arrange tests to be done.

A blood test can check to make sure you’re not anemic.

A pelvic ultrasound can check for any abnormalities.