Can your period really get 'stuck'?

·Yahoo Life UK contributor
Can your period get ‘stuck’? [Photo: Getty]
Can your period get ‘stuck’? [Photo: Getty]

Some women can practically set their clocks by the arrival of their period (well, not quite but you get what we mean).

They know that at the end of their 28 day cycle, they’ll start to feel the lower abdominal cramps, the sore boobs and, for some women, the tell-tale fatigue that normally signals the arrival of Aunt Flo.

But sometimes, a peculiar thing happens, though the signs are all there that your period is about to arrive with a vengeance, there’s still no sign of it two days later. And it sort of feels like it might be ‘stuck’.

The Health Site reports that there are other symptoms of a ‘stuck’ period including a distended, swollen lower abdomen, which is sometimes warm to touch, slight spotting, and radiating pain just below your ribcage.

It’s something that many women seem to have experienced. If you search ‘my period is stuck’ it will throw up hundreds of examples of worried women taking to forums to ask what’s going on.

But is your period getting stuck an actual thing or is something else going on?

It seems experts are divided on the subject.

Gynaecologist Dr Maya Lulla told Health Site that though not medically recognised the condition is common among young women who haven’t undergone childbirth. “In young women, the opening of the womb is constricted since they haven’t gone through childbirth. Once they give birth, the opening widens and facilitates easy and unobstructed flow of menstrual blood. As long as you eventually get your periods, it is not something you should worry about,” she explains.

But Anna Druet, chief scientific researcher at Clue, believes that though the symptoms listed above can sometimes feel like a ‘stuck’ period, it’s unlikely that’s actually what’s going on.

“Periods don’t get really get ‘stuck’,” she says. “It might feel that way, if your expected period is late, but this phrasing is misleading.”

“It’s important to remember that periods are just one part of a larger cycle of important events – the menstrual cycle includes the growth of your uterine lining, the preparation of a follicle, and the release of an egg,” she continues.

So what does Anna Druet think could be happening?

“A period that comes later than expected often indicates a later-than-usual ovulation,” she explains. “Ovulation typically happens around day 14 of a 28 day cycle, but it can vary for reasons like stress, travel or diet and activity changes.”

If you ovulate a few days later in your cycle, your period (and late-cycle symptoms) will also come a few days later. “If you don’t ovulate at all in one cycle, this can also affect the timing of your period, and symptoms.”

She goes on to say that slight variations in the timing of your period are very normal. “The important thing is that typical cycles are within range (24-38 days for adults), and don’t vary more than 7-9 days cycle-to-cycle. If they fall outside of these ranges, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider.”

Sometimes it feels like she’s on her way but Aunt Flo doesn’t actually show [Photo: Getty]
Sometimes it feels like she’s on her way but Aunt Flo doesn’t actually show [Photo: Getty]

Ian Currie, consultant gynaecologist at BMI The Chiltern Hospital in Buckinghamshire agrees that your period being ‘stuck’ is just a perception.

“The mechanism for painful periods has been debated for a long time but it is thought that the vast amount of pain and spasm that a woman experiences during menstruation is from the release of substances called prostaglandins,” he explains.

“These chemicals that naturally occur in the body cause muscle spasm and cramping. This occurs before the onset of bleeding thereby giving the impression that the blood flow is blocked in some way.”

Ian Currie says that though true cervical narrowing (cervical stenosis) can sometimes occur it is uncommon. “It is usually related to scarring form previous surgery to the cervix and can occasionally be congenital,” he says.

“An increasing diagnosis that is being diagnosed nowadays is a condition called adenomyosis. This is detected on high quality ultrasound and is when there are glandular cells within the muscle layer of the uterus. This gives intense spasm and pain,” he continues.

There are some other explanations for having all the period signs, but no period too.

“Missed periods in women over 45 are relatively common, due to the onset of menopause,” explains Doctify obstetrician & gynaecologist Owen Owens.

“In this scenario, period symptoms can be felt without a period as your hormones are trying to get a period started but are not powerful enough anymore to do so.”

“If a women is under 35 years old, the most common causes of missed periods are pregnancy and polycystic ovaries. Conditions such as rose prolactin thyrotoxicosis and women with low BMIs, or who exercise a lot can also have delayed or skipped periods, while experiencing PMS symptoms,” he continues.

“If you miss a period I recommend you take a pregnancy test. If you’re not pregnant, I recommend you see a GP and explain your symptoms,” Dr Owens continues. “They will likely schedule a scan and a hormonal blood test. In some cases polycystic ovaries are missed in scans so it’s important to get a second opinion from a gynaecologist if your scan comes back clear and your symptoms continue.”

So should you be concerned if you have all the signs that your period is due to arrive, but no actual period? Dr Owens doesn’t think so.

“Having delayed periods is generally not something to be worried about, but if you are experiencing uncomfortable symptoms it’s important you consult your GP or gynaecologist,” he says.

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