So you've had your period for a few years -- or for decades -- and you think
you're in the know. Then up pops a question from you or one of your friends
that no one can answer with certainty. That doesn't surprise
gynecologists, who say they often field menstrual cycle questions from their patients.
Here, three top gynecologists talk about the most common questions they get
about periods and what they tell their patients.
By Amy Engeler
At 3 a.m., with all the houses dark up and down her winding suburban street in West Warwick, Rhode Island, Jo-Ann Frey, 37, lights a candle so she can see well enough to dust her furniture. Careful not to turn on any lights or make noise that might wake up her family, she drifts from room to room with her candle and cleaning supplies, waiting until she feels sleepy enough to climb back into bed. That feeling doesn't come -- and when she hears the alarm in the bedroom go off...
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, occurs because your body
is sensitive to hormonal changes, says Richard P. Frieder, MD, a staff
gynecologist at Santa Monica UCLA & Orthopaedic Hospital in Santa Monica,
Calif. "In the week or 10 days before your period comes, hormone levels --
progesterone and estrogen -- are changing rapidly," he says.
That can cause symptoms such as bloating, mood swings, headache, breast tenderness, and
fatigue in some women, he
As many as 90% of women experience some symptoms before their period,
according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, but many
fewer -- 20% or less -- have symptoms severe enough to interfere with normal
activities and relationships and be termed PMS.
Whether you have just a few mild symptoms or full-blown PMS, Frieder
advises: "Make your body as healthy as possible. Try to get exercise every day, especially on
the day you get PMS. Drink lots of water so you are not dehydrated. Eat every
couple of hours. Stay away from alcohol and caffeine."
From there, he believes in treating individual symptoms. If moodiness is a
problem, for instance, he sometimes prescribes calcium supplements.
A high intake of calcium and vitamin D seems to reduce the risk of getting
PMS, according to a study that followed more than 3,000 women and was published
in 2005 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Women who ate about four
servings a day of low-fat milk or dairy foods or fortified orange juice were
less likely than those who didn't to develop PMS over the 10-year
Some experts have suggested that vitamin D and calcium deficiencies lead to
Often, women with more severe premenstrual symptoms report amazing relief
when they go on birth control pills, says
Frieder, who is also an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and
gynecology at the University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of
Medicine. Low doses of antidepressants are sometimes
prescribed to improve the mood swings.
2. Why are my cycles irregular?
Some women don't ovulate regularly and therefore have irregular periods,
Frieder says. Stress and illness, for
instance, can adversely affect the cycle.
But it's important to know the definition of a "regular" cycle before
deciding you are having irregular periods, Frieder says. What some women think
is an irregular cycle may not be, he says. A "regular" cycle, Frieder says,
means one that is between 25 and 35 days -- counting from the first day of
bleeding to the start of your next period.