Like it or not, your period is a part of your life. And you’re probably well aware of what is and isn’t normal for your flow. While most women have some variation with their periods, if something is off down there, you know it.
That said, it can be hard to know whether things are just weird one month or if you’re experiencing something that should be flagged for your doctor. Just know this: Your period can tell you more than you realise. “Periods are a pretty good indicator of gynecological health,” says Christine Greves, M.D., a board-certified ob/gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Basically, if something is wrong down there, it’s likely that your period will be affected.
Again, somethings periods just get out of whack and it’s no biggie. But it’s a good idea to let your doctor know if you experience any of these symptoms:
You’re regularly passing large blood clots
Having the odd clot during your period is normal, but if you’re consistently having blood clots that are large (think: golf ball-sized), it could be a sign of uterine fibroids, non-cancerous growths that can develop in your uterus, says Jessica Shepherd, M.D., an assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology and director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois College of Medicine.
You repeatedly soak through a tampon or pad in an hour or less
This is more than annoying: Bleeding this heavily could be an indication that you have polyps in your uterus or uterine fibroids, says Shepherd. If you experience shortness of breath and dizziness with heavy bleeding, you need to see a doctor ASAP, Greves says. This could be a sign that you’re anemic and may have a hormonal imbalance that needs to be corrected in order to stop or slow the bleeding.
Your period lasts longer than seven days
There are plenty of things that can make this happen, including stress, Shepherd says, and some women just have long periods. But if it’s not normal for you, a longer-than-normal period can also be due to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and uterine polyps. “In a worst-case scenario, it could be uterine cancer,” she adds. Basically, you don’t want to ignore this.
Your cycle is less than 20 days
Again, everyone’s cycle is different but if you’re suddenly having short cycles, it could be a sign of ovulatory dysfunction or a thyroid disorder, Greves says. It could also indicate PCOS and uterine polyps, which can cause “weird, irregular bleeding,” Shepherd says.
You missed a period but aren’t pregnant or breastfeeding
If you’ve been under a lot of stress or are doing a lot of high-intensity exercise, that can cause you to miss a period, Shepherd says. But thyroid issues can also make your period stop. If you miss a period and don’t have pain, you’re probably OK to wait it out. But if you keep missing periods, Greves says you need to call your doctor. It could be a sign of a hormonal imbalance that needs to be fixed.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.