Learn more about irregular periods, if and how they might affect your chances of getting pregnant and what to do if you have them.
Irregular periods can be annoying and inconvenient, but happily, they’re usually nothing to worry about. Still, because irregular menstrual cycles can occasionally signal an underlying hormonal imbalance or can sometimes make conceiving a baby slightly more difficult, you should discuss any irregularities in your cycle with your doctor during your checkups. Your doctor can diagnose your condition and prescribe the right treatment to help get your periods — and your pregnancy — back on track.
What are irregular periods?
If you have irregular periods, your actual period may seem normal — the amount you bleed and the number of days you bleed are similar to a typical period — but they happen at unusual intervals (more than 35 days or fewer than 21 days apart), at unpredictable intervals or a combination of these.
What causes irregular periods?
Occasional irregularities in your menstrual cycle are most commonly due to stress, travel, excessive exercise or another temporary change to your normal routine.
Cycles that are consistently irregular are more often due to factors such as an eating disorder, weight loss or weight gain, thyroid levels that are too high or too low, or hormonal imbalances (including those related to starting, stopping or missing doses of birth control pills, patches or other prescribed estrogen supplements).
The most common cause of chronically irregular periods is a disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). And, of course, a missed or abnormal period could also be due to pregnancy.
How can you tell if you have irregular periods?
Tracking your menstrual cycles (by noting the first day of your period on your calendar or period app over the course of a few months) will help you learn if your cycles are actually irregular or just a bit shorter (or longer) than the typical 28 to 30 days average cycle. Keeping track can also help your doctor better determine whether treatment is necessary.
Can you get pregnant if you have irregular periods?
Yes. Irregular menstrual cycles don’t always affect . In fact, plenty of women with irregular menstrual cycles get pregnant and go on to have normal pregnancies. So if you’re wondering whether irregular periods mean unable to get pregnant, the answer is no, but this may make it harder for you to get pregnant.
That said, when your periods are irregular, it makes it much more difficult (if not impossible) to look to your cycle for pregnancy bulletins so you know when to try to conceive. Usually women will track their cycles to determine when ovulation happens. But going months without bleeding and then getting your period without any discernible pattern, or always having irregular periods, can make that type of tracking unreliable. Instead you’ll have to be on the lookout for other signs of ovulation, since cycle length won’t tell you what you need to know to be able to time baby-making sex.
The real concern when it comes to irregular periods is that occasionally the condition might indicate irregular or absent ovulation. And if you don’t ovulate, you can’t get pregnant. Problems with ovulation are responsible for up to 30 percent of all cases of unable to pregnant. If it turns out that your menstrual irregularities signal an ovulation problem, now’s the time to consult with your physician to have an evaluation to see if you will need help getting pregnant or if there are any underlying health issues that should be addressed first.
How are irregular periods treated?
If irregular periods are bothering you or making it difficult for you to conceive, speak to your doctor to find out if there’s a way to get them back on track. It could be as easy as lowering your stress levels (extreme stress can derail your cycles) or cutting back on intense exercising (which could also prevent you from ovulating and having regular periods).
If your irregular periods are hormone-related, your doctor may suggest treating an underlying thyroid condition or using hormone therapies like birth control pills or certain types of IUDs that regulate your menstrual cycle. If you’re trying to get pregnant, sometimes getting on the right birth control for a little while can get your cycle back on track so that it’s easier (once you’re off birth control) to tell when you’re ovulating, which is a big step in helping you conceive, although this may not be successful.
If none of those work and you’re trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe a drug like letrozole (Femara), clomiphene (Clomid) or injectable meds to induce ovulation, but you should have a complete pregnancy evaluation before starting any of these drugs.
Rest assured that if you have irregular periods, it doesn’t mean you won’t be able to have a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, even if you are not trying to get pregnant, it is important for you to consult with your physician to make sure that nothing is being missed and that you can understand what the best options are for you.