How Long Does a Normal Period Last? Find out just what a period is and tips for managing your flow.
What Is a Period?
A period is one of the phases of the female menstrual cycle, which happens every month. A period is also known as menstruation, and it’s the body’s way of getting rid of the uterine lining it no longer needs (due to lack of an implanted fertilized egg).
Different p experience menstruation differently. Some of us have very light menstrual bleeding. Others may have a heavier menstrual flow that requires us to use a tampon and wear a backup pad at all times (some of you ladies know exactly what I’m talking about!).
If you don’t bleed at all during your menstrual cycle or if you experience long, heavy menstrual periods accompanied by menstrual cramps, mood swings, and other PMS symptoms, you aren’t experiencing the healthiest period possible.
Typical Period Length
The typical period length is between four and eight days. Here’s what you should know about the menstrual cycle and where a period usually fits within that cycle.
- Days 1-7: This is the beginning of your menstrual cycle and is when menstruation typically occurs. Keep in mind that it may last anywhere between four to eight days on average.
- Day 14: For many women, day 14 is when ovulation occurs. This happens when an egg makes its way up the fallopian tube and is released from the ovarian follicle. If pregnancy is your goal, it’s important to know when ovulation typically happens for you. If you’re on hormonal birth control, such as the pill or an IUD, you may or may not ovulate (depending on the type of birth control you use). Unlike a hormonal IUD, a copper IUD doesn’t contain hormones, but it can still cause prolonged menstrual bleeding or heavy periods.
- Days 15-24: Your body prepares for the implantation of a fertilized egg by causing the lining of the uterus to thicken during days 15-24 of your cycle. A fertilized egg needs a thick uterine wall to attach to while it develops into an embryo. If the egg does implant on the wall, you may experience symptoms such as slight spotting (also known as implantation bleeding) and mild cramping.
- Days 25-28: If the egg doesn’t get fertilized, the body responds by preparing it to be expelled from the body (along with the thickened uterine lining). Hormone levels (specifically estrogen and progesterone) change during days 25-28 to prepare the body for menstruation. Then the entire menstrual cycle happens all over again.
The female menstrual cycle continues until pregnancy or until hormones change in a way that prevents the cycle from continuing. Not all of us experience ideal menstrual phases like the one outlined above. Some of us go through ovulation on day 13 or day 15 of our cycle, and some of us may not experience ovulation regularly.
Causes of Long Periods
Here are some of the most common causes for irregular periods.
- Pregnancy: No, that wasn’t a typo. One of the lesser-known symptoms of early pregnancy is bleeding. If you’re experiencing irregular bleeding (especially if you had intercourse around the time of ovulation), you may be pregnant. You can quickly rule this out by taking a pregnancy test.
- PCOS: Polycystic ovary syndrome affects approximately 10% of women in the reproductive age range. It can cause various symptoms, such as infertility, weight gain, messed-up hormones (including estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone), and prolonged menstrual periods.
- Hormonal Birth Control: Any type of birth control can potentially cause prolonged bleeding or breakthrough bleeding (which is any type of bleeding that occurs outside of your normal period). Not all women experience abnormal bleeding while on birth control, but some do. A hormonal IUD, shot, pill, and other forms of hormonal birth control can all potentially make your periods longer by manipulating your hormones.
- Uterine Fibroids: Prolonged or heavy bleeding can be caused by abnormalities in the uterus, such as uterine fibroids. They’re pretty common and are usually noncancerous growths, but they can mess with your uterus and cause unpleasant symptoms when you’re on your period.
- Endometrial Hyperplasia: This condition is marked by excessive thickening of the endometrium (uterine lining). Too much estrogen is behind this condition, which can lead to heavy and prolonged bleeding.
- Perimenopause: As we age, our bodies go through some pretty significant hormone changes known as menopause. You probably know that menopause is marked by the absence of a period. But perimenopause (which is the time when your body begins to undergo hormone changes as it prepares for menopause) is a common cause of prolonged periods. Some women begin perimenopause as early as age 35.
The occasional long period usually isn’t anything to worry about. But if you’re consistently experiencing prolonged bleeding or you have significant bleeding between your periods, it’s a good idea to get checked out to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms. This is especially true if you experience additional symptoms, such as painful periods or heavy menstrual bleeding.
While there are many potential causes for prolonged periods, most of them boil down to an imbalance of hormones. This is something many of us can fix if we know how to do it correctly.
Tips for Managing and Shortening Your Period
If your period is too long, it’s time to take your quality of life back! Here are some of our favorite tips for shortening period length:
- Exercise regularly
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Have sex (the muscle contractions caused by orgasm can push menstrual blood out of the uterus and potentially shorten the duration of your period)
- Balance your hormones
- Incorporate proactive PMS solutions
If you are ever concerned, you can always ask your doctor for further insight.