Temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate — these are the vital signs collected by your healthcare provider as a measure of your health. When it comes to women’s health, however, these vital signs cannot paint the whole picture.
Your period is the fifth vital sign¹, experts believe. Month after month your period is giving you information about your health. An abnormal period isn’t just an abnormal period, it can be an indication that something isn’t right.
Among the reasons for a delayed or missed period, the most coming is a hormone imbalance. Specifically, if your estrogen or progesterone levels change, this can change your period. Some things that cause hormone imbalances include stress, PCOS, pregnancy, and certain medications. And a period that comes with a lot of pain? That could be a clue there is something bigger going on, like endometriosis or fibroids.
This belief that your period is an important indicator of your overall health and wellbeing is encouraging thorough tracking of menstrual cycles. The hope is that more providers will collect information on their female patient’s cycles and that more women and girls will learn to track their periods and play an active role in their menstrual health.
Your Period: What’s Normal and What’s Not
If your period is your fifth vital sign and an important indicator of health, it’s time to get to know your menstrual cycle really well. We encourage the use of apps, like Clue or Flo, or even keeping a simple journal.
These are easy ways to document information like mood, physical symptoms, flow, color, length, and the frequency of your period.
For menstruating women, there is a wide range of experiences that count as normal. Here's what most women can expect from a typical, healthy cycle and a look at some symptoms that aren’t part of a healthy period.
Length: Most periods last between two and seven days. If your period is longer than a week, this could mean you have menorrhagia, or heavy menstrual bleeding. Menorrhagia can cause anemia as well as general discomfort for women.
Frequency: Most menstruating women will have a period every 25 to 35 days². Missing a period or cycles shorter than 25 days could indicate an underlying health issue.
Flow: Light to heavy flow is normal, and many women experience very heavy flow during their period. If you are soaking through a pad an hour, however, this is considered excessive and may need medical attention to address the underlying issue.
Consistency: Some moderate clotting and thickness can be typical to most periods. Excessive clotting, clotting with excessive bleeding, or large clots could be caused by a health condition like fibroids or in some cases an early pregnancy loss.
Period symptoms: Cramping, mood changes, poor sleep, cravings, and acne are all very common symptoms to experience before and during a period, but this does mean that you have to live with these symptoms. There are many natural ways to lessen and eliminate these experiences through diet, seed cycling, exercise, and healthy lifestyle habits. They are also good reasons to seek out extra support from a compassionate women’s healthcare provider.
Learning about your fifth vital sign and keeping track of changes or abnormal symptoms during your period can empower you to take an active role in your health.