If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you bleed more or less frequently than everyone else, this one’s for you. Because, let’s face it, we’ve all wondered at some point. From irregular periods as a teen, to the weird spacing that arrives during Menopause and everything in between, a longer Menstrual Cycle is entirely, er, average. Yes, 28 days is something of a myth, and here’s why…
What is the Menstrual Cycle?
We’re going back to basics here, ladies. Now, while your period is the most visible and, to be honest, visceral part of it, it’s only about a quarter of your actual cycle. In totality, your Menstrual cycle is the coordination of the hormones that regulate your egg production and release, pregnancy, and periods. All of which can take weeks, depending on your individual hormone levels and the like. Longer menstrual cycles can, therefore, be totally average.
There are four main hormone players in your cycle, and they are:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone, henceforth known as FSH
- Luteinizing hormone, also known as LH
How hormones and Menstrual Cycles work
If you’re a regular Hormona, you’ve likely heard us talk about at least two of them in the not-too-distant past. Each of the four players has their own jobs during your Menstrual cycle, and where Estrogen and Progesterone are concerned, lots of other jobs, too.
FSH, as its name suggests, is there to stimulate your follicles. And while that sounds a tad bizarre, what it’s actually doing is asking your ovaries to start growing some eggs. Those eggs live in follicles, and spend their time releasing Estrogen and getting bigger. That Estrogen lets the FSH know how the eggs are getting on, and once one is ready for release, your FSH should drop.
LH arrives just before Ovulation to encourage a final growth spurt, as well as the impetus for your egg to leave its follicle and launch into your Fallopian tubes to await possible fertilization. Again, once your egg has been released, LH should also drop.
Estrogen and Progesterone, though, have a much more complex role in your Menstrual Cycle. As we mentioned, your ovaries produce Estrogen. And starting just after your period, it slowly rises, reaching a peak around the mid-point of your cycle just before you ovulate. At that point, it drops dramatically, before slightly rising and falling again as you approach your next period.
Menstrual Cycle and Pregnancy
Progesterone is mostly concerned with pregnancy, so it prepares your uterus for a possible egg by thickening the lining. If no pregnancy occurs, your lining sheds, and you have a period. And your Progesterone levels drop til the next time.
If you do start baking a new human, though, both Estrogen and Progesterone levels will climb, peaking at about 32 weeks. It’s the most Estrogen you’ll ever produce… And it drops about a month before labor.
Menstrual Cycle phases
Even if you have a longer Menstrual Cycle, the phases will generally be the same, just elongated. And they are:
- Period: Your uterus sheds its lining resulting in bleeding.
- Follicular phase: Estrogen begins to climb as eggs grow; FSH and LH join the party just before…
- Ovulation: Your most mature egg is released into your Fallopian tube to await fertilization.
- Luteal phase: If conception doesn’t occur, Progesterone drops as your body prepares for your period, leading to PMS and all that lovely stuff.
How long is an average Menstrual Cycle?
You may well have heard that the average Menstrual Cycle is, allegedly, 28 days long. Stop laughing. Now, we’ve no idea who came up with that number, or how they arrived at it, but we have a sneaking suspicion they know the team who decided on the average loss of blood. Anyhoops, you won’t be surprised to learn that 28 days is not the average.
Nope, the average is 29.3 days. No, really, stop laughing. Because here’s the real headline. The team behind this cycle length research actually found that 65% of the 124,000 women had a cycle length of 25-30 days. And the next biggest group had a cycle length of 31-35 days. Only 13% of the cycles in the study were 28 days long!
What does this all mean? Well first, everyone should stop assuming that a menstrual cycle is 28 days long. And then we need to acknowledge that everyone is different. That being said, there has to be some range for “average” and some range for “we should probably look into what is causing this in case it needs treatment.”
So, from now on, we’re saying that an average cycle length is anything from 21-35 days long. And how do you work out how long your Menstrual Cycle is? It’s way easier than you think. Day one of your cycle is the first day that you wake up bleeding. Then you just count the days until the beginning of your next period and then start from one again.
So, if there are 24 days from the first day of one period to the first day of the next one, then that cycle was 24 days long. Simple, no?
What happens if I have a longer Menstrual cycle?
A longer Menstrual Cycle might just be typical for you. Everyone is different and, as the above study proves, the majority of people don’t actually have a 28-day cycle. Anything up to 35 days is considered totally fine. That said, less than 1% of cycles in the study were longer than 50 days. To put that into perspective, that’s around seven weeks.
Now, if you have a much longer Menstrual Cycle, of say, several months, then this might be an indication that something else is going on. It might be that you’re not ovulating every month, so your body isn’t coordinating a period every month. Irregular periods can have all kinds of causes, but several months is something to tell your healthcare team about.
What can cause a longer Menstrual Cycle?
If a longer Menstrual Cycle isn’t something you’re used to seeing, then there could be a few things that’s affecting it. Please don’t ignore missed periods — particularly if you’re worried about your fertility.
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS affects a lot of the hormones in your body. It can disrupt Ovulation and cause a longer Menstrual Cycle, which can mean several months between periods. The condition itself has three main features: The aforementioned irregular periods, natch, and increased body and facial hair, and acne, thanks to higher androgen levels. But the third is where its name comes from, and why fertility issues are so common among those with PCOS.
And that’s liquid-filled cysts growing on your ovaries. Well, technically, they’re the follicles that house your eggs, and therefore already there, but the liquid is what changes the game. It stops your follicles from maturing to the point of Ovulation, which means your eggs don’t get released.
Here’s why that’s an issue: Estrogen is produced in your ovaries on their way to Ovulation. So if your eggs aren’t growing and being released, your levels will be super-low. And that can lead to all sorts of physical, emotional, and fertility-related side effects.
If your Menstrual Cycle is several months long, and you think PCOS might be in the frame, please talk to a healthcare type. For health reasons, and if you’re not on hormonal birth control, it’s a good idea to have at least three periods a year if you’re living with PCOS. There are medications that can help with this if you need them.
Without wishing to state the blindingly obvious here, gang, but pregnancy will stop your periods. So if you’re the type who likes to ovulate occasionally, and you’re having sex with some who produces sperm fairly regularly, conception is on the cards without contraception.
Which means, if you’re seeing a longer Menstrual cycle than usual, a pregnancy test is always worth doing.
A longer Menstrual cycle is one of the bedrocks of Menopause. Falling Estrogen levels, accompanied by fewer and fewer eggs eventually mean long gaps between periods, before they stop altogether. Essentially the time it takes for your ovaries to fully retire, Menopause generally starts around 45, and can go on for a decade or more.
If, though, you’re younger than 45 and think your longer cycle might be Menopause-related, it’s time to tell someone. Early Menopause can be treated, but the sooner you start therapy the sooner things can start to rebalance.
If you’re of the primary Menopause age, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also talk to a healthcare type if you’re seeing symptoms. No one’s life should suffer because they had the temerity to make it to their mid-40s. And there are tons of things you can do to ease symptoms and rock your way through Menopause.
If a longer Menstrual Cycle becomes no periods at all, that’s what we call Secondary Amenorrhea. It’s a fancy way of saying your periods started as usual when you were younger, but have now stopped. Menopause, pregnancy, and breastfeeding are perfect examples of it, but they aren’t the only causes.
Some medications, extreme exercise or dieting plans, eating disorders, and even plain old stress can all have an effect on your cycle. We can’t stress this enough, but your periods are your fifth vital sign, and any changes can mean something is going wrong somewhere. So please tell someone if a long cycle is a new symptom for you.
Yup, despite what some healthcare types might tell you, your Thyroid gland can also have a hand in a longer Menstrual cycle. In fact, both over and underactive Thyroids can lead to large gaps between your periods, and that’s something Medicine has known for almost two centuries. No, you read that right. Do not get us started.
That longer cycle, though, can also come with other fun new things. So if you’re seeing the myriad other period disturbances, including super heavy, or incredibly light periods when they eventually appear, severe cramps, lots of clots, spotting, and the like, you could have a Thyroid thing going on.
Again, we don’t want to be Captain Obvious, but everyone reacts to hormonal birth control slightly differently, depending on the form you’ve chosen. Some people find their periods practically disappear, while others find they remain irregular but less of a nightmare. Essentially, if you’re using hormonal birth control, a longer Menstrual Cycle can be par for the course.
That said, best to check with your physician which scenario is most likely for you. Knowledge is power, gang.
Longer Menstrual cycle – now what?
To sum up, gang, if a longer Menstrual cycle is normal for you, then it’s normal. We’re all different and if 35 days is how you roll, you do you. That said, if a longer cycle comes out of nowhere, or you see any other changes, please don’t ignore them. And that goes double if it’s already been three months since your last period, or you’re getting headaches, nausea, vision changes, pelvic pain, hair loss of hair or atypical growth, acne, or discharge from your breasts.
Keeping a record to take to the doctor with you can help massively when it comes to a diagnosis, and the Hormona app is fab for that. But if you’re worrying, there’s no time like now to talk to someone.