Periods can cause uncomfortable symptoms such as cramps, mood changes, and breast tenderness.

Mild symptoms can often be expected, but anyone with severe or unusual symptoms should receive medical attention.

In this article, we focus on 12 health issues to look out for during a period and describe when to see a doctor. We also explore treatment options and some strategies to help keep these symptoms from returning.

A woman journals and notes her period symptoms not to ignore.Share on Pinterest
Stress-reducing activities, such as journaling, may help ease or prevent some period symptoms.

Severe or unusual health issues during a period can indicate a hormone imbalance or an underlying condition. These may require lifestyle adjustments, home care, or professional treatment.

Anyone with one or more of the 12 symptoms below should speak with a doctor.

1. Heavy bleeding

Menorrhagia is heavy or long-lasting menstrual bleeding. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people have heavy bleeding if they:

  • have a period that lasts longer than 7 days
  • bleed through a pad or tampon within 2 hours
  • need to change a pad or tampon during the night
  • pass blood clots larger than a quarter, or another large coin

Heavy bleeding could indicate a hormone imbalance or a health condition that affects the uterus.

2. Spotting

Spotting, or any vaginal bleeding between periods, could indicate a condition such as:

In rare cases, vaginal bleeding between periods or after menopause could be a sign of uterine, cervical, or ovarian cancer.

Learn more about spotting here.

3. Skipped periods

Stress, excessive exercise, and some forms of birth control can all disrupt the menstrual cycle and cause a missed period. If the cause is temporary, a person’s period may return as usual the next month.

Pregnancy causes periods to stop, and they may not resume until the woman finishes breastfeeding.

The medical term for the absence of periods before menopause is amenorrhea. The Office on Women’s Health (OWH) explain that a person may have amenorrhea if:

  • they miss more than three periods in a row
  • they have not had a period by the age of 15

The OWH note that some other causes of amenorrhea can include:

4. Breast tenderness

Mild breast tenderness can be expected during a period.

However, a person should consult a doctor if breast tenderness:

  • is severe
  • occurs at other times of the menstrual cycle
  • accompanies any other symptoms, such as a lump in the breast or changes in the nipple or the skin of the breast

5. Diarrhea

Some have an upset stomach or diarrhea around or during their periods.

This can be due to the release of chemicals called prostaglandins from the uterus, which can cause diarrhea, nausea, and lightheadedness.

If diarrhea is severe or an unusual period symptom, speak to a doctor.

6. Clotting

Some clotting is a regular feature of menstrual bleeding, particularly on days with a heavier flow. Clots smaller than a quarter can often be expected, particularly at the beginning of a period.

If a person notices clots that are larger or appear more frequently than usual, it could indicate an underlying health issue, such as:

  • fibroids
  • endometriosis
  • adenomyosis, in which the uterine lining grows through the wall of the uterus

Also, if a woman who is pregnant, or suspects pregnancy, passes clots, this could indicate pregnancy loss, or miscarriage. If this happens, it is important to see a doctor right away.

7. Unusual consistency

The consistency of a period may change from the beginning to the end of the period, with a heavier flow to start with, which then gets lighter towards the end of the period.

If people experience abnormal menstrual blood consistency, which is different from their usual consistency, they should see their doctor.

Pink, watery menstrual blood or unusually thick blood could indicate an underlying condition, such as menorrhagia.

8. Cramps

The medical term for pain during periods is dysmenorrhea, and cramping is often a cause of this pain.

Mild cramping in the abdomen can be an uncomfortable but expected part of the menstrual cycle.

Extreme or unusual cramping could be severe dysmenorrhea, and indicate an underlying condition such as:

  • endometriosis
  • adenomyosis
  • fibroids

9. Period not stopping

The duration of bleeding can vary from person to person, ranging from about 2–7 days. For each person, it should be fairly consistent from month to month.

If the duration of a period changes from month to month, or if the menstrual cycle becomes unusually long or short, this can signal an underlying health issue, and it is a good idea to speak with a doctor.

10. Significant mood changes

After ovulation and before the start of a period, many women experience a combination of physical and emotional symptoms. These, collectively, are known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

The OWH note that changes in levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone can cause low mood, which is a common PMS feature.

However, severe changes in mood, which may keep a person from daily activities, could be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. People with this issue often benefit from a combination of lifestyle changes and medications.

It is also important to note that any mood changes related to regular hormonal shifts can worsen symptoms of existing mental health conditions.

11. Irregular periods

Typically, a menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but can vary from person to person. A regular menstrual cycle may be 24–38 days long.

An irregular period is one that occurs more frequently or less often than usual.

Irregular periods can point to an underlying condition, such as:

  • endometriosis
  • PCOS
  • premature ovarian failure
  • thyroid problems

12. Migraine

Roughly 4 in 10 females experience a migraine headache at some point, and about half of the time, the headache occurs during a period.

This type of pain may occur, the OWH explain, if the changes in hormone levels due to the menstrual cycle affect chemicals in the brain.

Anyone who experiences migraine should consult a doctor. Although there is no cure, various treatments can manage the symptoms and help prevent migraine episodes.

If any severe symptom occurs during a period, or if a period has any unusual features, it is a good idea to see a doctor.

A person should also see a healthcare provider about any of the following:

  • unusual vaginal discharge
  • a burning sensation while urinating
  • a fever
  • severe pain at any time

The following home care strategies may help ease mild period symptoms:

  • a warm compress or heating pad, to help with cramping
  • relaxing in a warm bath, to ease cramps
  • yoga
  • getting regular exercise
  • acupuncture, to help with dysmenorrhea
  • over-the-counter pain relief medications, such as ibuprofen

Some people track symptoms throughout their cycle, in a journal, for example. This can help a person learn what to expect, plan accordingly, and spot any abnormalities.

Lifestyle changes can also help prevent certain symptoms, including some that characterize PMS. Tips include:

  • getting regular exercise throughout the cycle to help to ease symptoms such as mood changes and fatigue
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • reducing stress with strategies such as mindfulness, journaling, meditation, or yoga
  • having a healthful, nutritious diet
  • avoiding caffeine, salt, and sugar 2 weeks before a period
  • aiming for 8 hours of quality sleep each night, which may reduce mood changes throughout the cycle
  • not smoking and avoiding smoke

Many people come to expect mild discomfort around the time of a period, and specific issues vary from person to person.

If any unusual or severe symptoms occur, a person should see a doctor. These issues can indicate an underlying health problem, such as a hormonal imbalance.