Why would my period symptoms vary so much month to month?
October 28, 2021 5:16 PM   Subscribe

YANMD. Over the last few years I have noticed that my period symptoms vary from month to month, and I never know what to expect. Some months (like this one) I have severe cramping, mood swings and lethargy. Other months I have zero pain and feel emotionally fine. If you are a menstruating person, have you experienced this, and if so what are factors that influence your symptoms month to month?

I have had the copper IUD (ParaGard) for ~9 years. I'm in my late 30s.

Some months my flow is incredibly heavy for more than a week. Some months my period only lasts a few days. Pre-ParaGard my flow was much lighter.

I've talked to my doctor who was just like, "bodies are weird! Dunno!" I'm trying to figure out if this is something that happens to everyone or if I should seek more medical help.
posted by rogerroger to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Kind of an aside to your question but:

Have you thought about a hormonal IUD like the Mirena? I've had almost no period signs since I've had it. Of course this is moot if you can't/don't want to use hormonal contraception.
posted by cozenedindigo at 5:42 PM on October 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

Your ovaries sort of take turns maturing eggs. It could be that one produces more hormones, cramping, etc. than the other. Or one ovary might not produce eggs at all and therefore not kick off many adjacent menstrual symptoms. Or multiple eggs might be maturing, resulting in different symptoms some months.
posted by cocoagirl at 5:48 PM on October 28, 2021 [9 favorites]

Are you on other medications? I didn’t have periods for years and the culprit was a medication I had been on for ages but my doctors and I never considered it could be the cause until I went off it.
posted by carabiner at 5:59 PM on October 28, 2021

I'm in my late 30s.

This can be a symptom of perimenopause.
posted by Miko at 6:03 PM on October 28, 2021 [9 favorites]

Some amount of variation is normal, though I don’t know if the amount of variation you’re experiencing is. I’m sure you know that some people have a 28-days-like-clockwork cycle and some people have a 25 days, then 32 days, then 27 days, etc type cycle. I have the latter type, and my ob/gyn says that she considers that regular cycle, even though it’s not exactly the same every month. Similarly, some people have a more consistent experience and some people a more varied one in terms of mood, cramps, flow, etc. And of course, some people have very irregular periods, though my understanding is that is usually due to PCOS or other hormonal causes.

In terms of things that influence my symptoms, I’ve noticed that if I’m generally active and exercising regularly, I have significantly less cramping than if I’m more sedentary. Sleep is also super important to my emotional stability overall (not just during pms) - but if I’m not getting enough sleep, pms can exacerbate moodiness and make a bigger difference than it would if I was sleeping enough and feeling generally good.
posted by insectosaurus at 6:15 PM on October 28, 2021 [4 favorites]

I'm not on any form of birth control but as someone in her early 40s, I've definitely just decided most of this is perimenopause. Much of it has been weird but since it's mostly been just "oh, that's kind of odd" rather than "well, that's super scary," I've mostly just been rolling with it.

I have noticed my stress (both physical and emotional) levels definitely affect my periods. Like sometimes I just want to clean everything (which I appreciate). Sometimes I just want to curl up and watch comfort movies (that's also OK too).

I haven't necessarily found a lot of insight in period trackers but tracking some things have helped me understand some of the variations a bit more.

But honestly, I'm kind of at the point where "bodies are weird."

(I just got my Covid booster which coincided with my period and maybe that's a coincidence but the cramps have been worse and I dunno, bodies are weird.)
posted by edencosmic at 6:15 PM on October 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

Came to say perimenopause also. I was 100% regular for decades, until I hit my late 40’s.
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:20 PM on October 28, 2021

Chaos is the hallmark of perimenopause.
posted by HotToddy at 6:37 PM on October 28, 2021 [5 favorites]

Have you noticed whether or not this aligns with one ovary? (They switch off every month.) Has your doc attempted to do anything about your severe pain/bleeding? (I assume not.) Because when I was having weird shit happening every other period it eventually turned out a massive (benign!!) ovarian cyst. And I had spent many years waving it off as "bodies are weird!" and "it's probably perimenopause!" But then I went to a new OBGYN who was like, "let's just check this out," and boom now I only have one ovary and feel ten years younger and a million percent better. Even if it IS just "bodies are weird!" (which they are!!), you might be able to do something that keeps your Hell Months from being so hellish? So my vote is to maybe talk to another OBGYN.
posted by Countess Sandwich at 6:49 PM on October 28, 2021 [8 favorites]

I came to say perimenopause. That said, before concluding perimenopause for my period weirdness, my doctor did do a uterine biopsy, just in case, even though the symptoms didn't really align with uterine cancer. If you decide to go that route, A) it is not "pretty much like a pap" and b) don't drive yourself.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:22 PM on October 28, 2021

I can only chime in with the observation that I always felt like every fourth period was heavier than the others.
Is there some large pattern that you can id?
Note: didn’t have IUD
posted by calgirl at 7:49 PM on October 28, 2021

I have pretty massive seasonal variation in my periods & symptoms, could this be a thing for you as well? For a few months in summer and winter, my cycle is about 28 days. In the spring it gets shorter (as short as 21 days), and my PMS/period symptoms, as well as flow, are much lighter. In the fall my cycle gets longer (as long as 35 days or even more) with allll the lousy symptoms, to the point where when I was younger I worried I was pregnant, like clockwork, every fall. I don't know why my body is so affected by the seasons, but it is a predictable pattern every year.
posted by DTMFA at 8:22 PM on October 28, 2021 [2 favorites]

I had a copper IUD for almost a decade, and after I took it out it was like… I don’t know, like I barely had a period anymore. I don’t know if I forgot what periods were like before I got it, or if they got worse over time while I had it, but since taking it out I’ve barely even had a cramp. I don’t regret having gotten it - hormonal birth control doesn’t agree with me in any form, and my god it was nice to just NEVER have to think about it - but ultimately I’m glad I was in a position to have it taken out.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:30 PM on October 28, 2021 [3 favorites]

I also came to say perimenopause. Up until I turned 40, my periods were all pretty much identical and regular. Now they are wildly different, both in timing and symptoms/heaviness.

(I was literally complaining about this to my friends this morning, so, solidarity)
posted by gaspode at 5:42 AM on October 29, 2021

Do you have any symptoms of pituitary problems? Thermo-regulation? Lactating unexpectedly? Reflex ovulation? Low blood pressure? Migraines?
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:45 AM on October 29, 2021

another "perimenopause" suggestion!

I'm 47 (no IUD now, had a ParaGard from about 32-45), and have noticed that a) my PMS symptoms fluxgate more now and b) I personally seem to get primarily either physical OR mental/emotional symptoms, not both. So I'm either crampy and have sore boobs for a week, or I spend a week breaking down over minor inconveniences, and then (inconsistent and somewhat unpredictable) bleeding. YMMV, obviously.
posted by Kpele at 8:56 AM on October 29, 2021

Copper IUDs are known to increase the intensity of periods. I had one for 4 years and I can confirm this happened for me. My periods went from an excruciating 8-9 days down to 5 after I took it out. Now I maybe get (light) cramps maybe 3x a year.

If you like the anti-baby properties of an IUD, consider a Mirena. I cant tolerate added hormones and decided to just go back to condoms after my IUD was removed.
posted by ananci at 9:02 AM on October 29, 2021

Add me to the "I turned 40 and things got wild" crowd.
posted by joycehealy at 9:49 AM on October 29, 2021

I had the same symptoms when i started into menopause in my mid-30's.
posted by summerstorm at 11:08 AM on October 29, 2021

Just chiming in to say I have noticed the same thing, also in my late 30s (erm, and 40 in about two weeks...), but also to add the requisite Baroness Von Sketch skit for everyone's entertainment.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:29 PM on October 29, 2021 [1 favorite]

Same here, since I was 12, with and without a Mirena. It's just how I am, as far as I can tell -- no doctor has ever expressed any concern about it. I've never been able to find a pattern to it.
posted by The corpse in the library at 5:15 PM on October 31, 2021

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