What are the first words that come to mind when you think of your monthly period? For most women, those words would be uncomfortable, painful, and annoying (or even hot compress and chocolate ice cream!). But what if your menstrual cycle could reveal more about your physical health than just those unpleasant premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms?
As a naturopathic doctor, I like to refer to your monthly period as your fifth vital sign as a woman. Aside from the basics like body temperature, blood pressure, and pulse and respiration rate, your period — or really, the colour of your period — can help determine your overall health. The key is to learn what to look for and understand what your body is telling you.
Here’s a crash course to decode what the colour of your period is telling you about your health.
What Does a Healthy Period Look Like?
A ‘healthy’ period looks different for every woman. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but it can range from 21 days to 35 days. Menstrual flow (bleeding) should last three to seven days. Your flow should be fairly light, not too light — in other words, if you’re not bleeding for at least three days during your period, you may want to check in with your doctor.
Too light of a period may signal an underlying hormonal imbalance. However, an oral birth control pill, hormonal IUD, or other hormonal-based medication can either stop or dramatically lighten your period. So, if you’ve been on birth control or an alternative hormonal regimen for over a year, you can anticipate a lighter period or not having to use a tampon since your flow is so light.
You should change your tampon (or pad or DivaCup, whatever works for you!), every four to eight hours with a healthy period. Your feminine product does not have to reach maximum absorbency at this time. In fact, you may want to speak with your doctor if you’ve been having consistent overflow bleeding month to month or have needed to change your tampon really, really often due to leaks.
Other indicators of a healthy period are the type of discharge you’re having throughout your cycle. Most women have a discharge that is egg white and kind of sticky around day 14 to 18 — have you noticed this discharge happening for you? Or are you having other types of discharge throughout your cycle? Remember that discharge can be a normal — and healthy — part of your period, too.
What Colour is Normal Period Blood?
Normal period blood can be several shades of red. What most consider ‘normal’ is bright red to dark red blood for about three to seven days. Dark period blood is normal at the start and end of your period, since this blood might have taken longer to travel through your cervix and vagina. Bright red blood is common during the heaviest days of your cycle, which may begin on day two.
If you notice brown blood at the start or end of your period, it’s likely because the blood is older and the uterine lining darkens the longer it takes to leave your uterus. However, consistently brown or even black period blood does warrant further investigation by your doctor. A lack of the hormone progesterone may not be lining the uterus appropriately, causing darker shades of period blood.
Likewise, inadequate progesterone production can lead to super heavy bleeding or really light bleeding. Uncovering those hormonal imbalances via the colour of your period blood can give us a lot of information in terms of which hormones we think might be out of balance and which hormones we need to test and investigate to help you reach optimal health.
So, are there any colours of period blood that are not normal? Yes! Grayish discharge throughout your cycle could be a sign of an infection, and heavy bleeding with pieces of grayish tissue could indicate a potential miscarriage. If there are any hints of gray in your period blood, visit a doctor as soon as possible to learn what your body is trying to tell you.
When Should I Worry About the Colour or Consistency of My Period?
With cycles that can last for up to 35 days, there will be times when you question the colour or consistency of your period. One thing to look for is spotting or light bleeding throughout your cycle. If you’re spotting around days 14 to 18, or need to wear a pad or tampon, that can be due to underlying hormonal imbalances and certainly warrants talking to your healthcare provider.
You should also keep watch for watery, pink discharge that occurs irregularly or without a pattern in regards to your cycle. Unlike normal spotting, this discharge will have a very thin consistency. This type of vaginal discharge may be a sign of cervical cancer that should be examined by your healthcare providers as soon as possible — as should frequent white discharge. Speak with your doctor if you’re noticing any kind of itchiness as well, as it may be a sign of a chronic yeast infection.
Lastly, if you’re noticing a lot of big clots in your period, that can be a red flag and definitely warrants further investigation. It’s normal for clots to form, as our body does forms clots when we shed blood. Clots are supposed to be around dime size; however, if they’re getting to quarter size or anything bigger, it warrants looking into further reasons into why that might be happening.
What does the colour of your period reveal?
Monitoring your monthly period can uncover hidden hormonal imbalances that impact your overall health. Learn how a naturopathic doctor with a focus on women’s hormones can help.