What Does It Mean to Have Shorter Cycles?

I got my period ridiculously young at only a few months shy of 10 years-old. As quickly as it came, though, it disappeared again for many months. I was nearly 11 when I began to achieve some monthly regularity in my cycle, though starting at 13, it again became sporadic. By the time I hit college, my first couple of years there, I tended to get them more every other month or even quarterly. It wasn’t until I was nearly 20 that I began to settle into a four-week cycle, that more or less became the norm for me for the next decade and change.

Suddenly, my cycles were shorter

However, beginning a few years ago in my mid-thirties, something shifted, and my cycles almost abruptly began to get shorter. Specifically, the winter season after I turned 35, I began getting my period every three weeks. As my endo indicates, my periods are pretty painful to begin with; It is awful enough to have to deal with them every 28 days, but suddenly, having to contend with them more often at every 21 days made me seriously panic, especially as it made it harder to plan my life.

Looking for answers

I visited several gynecologists, who mostly shrugged their shoulders. At some point during all this, I read that sometimes lack of physical exercise (which is more common in the winter) and a lack of vitamin C can sometimes shorten cycles, so I ramped up my walking regimen even in the bitter cold weather and began to take a daily vitamin C supplement. Whether a coincidence or not, after a few months, I reverted back to a 4-week cycle by the time late spring arrived.

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However, the following Spring (not Winter), my cycles shrank again- this time to every two weeks. Admittedly, I had taken a round of Plan B the month prior, and while that can sometimes throw a cycle off-kilter, it is usually very temporary. But this new 2-week cycle endured for months. I again visited a slew of gynecologists- this time who conducted a series of tests from blood to urine to imaging. It was confirmed I had several fibroids and adenomyosis in my uterus. My hormonal tests came back normal and it was confirmed I wasn’t in early menopause (as sometimes can cause more frequent cycles). I have heard that sometimes women’s cycles become more unpredictable as they get older, but this seemed a bit much. For the first time in my life, I began contemplating a hysterectomy, as a way to get control over my unpredictable periods and the havoc its unruly schedule was causing me.

Short-term relief

After about five months, I finally was back at a four-week cycle, thanks in part, it seemed, to taking a chasteberry supplement (which can help regulate hormones). Unfortunately, the effects of the herb, at least in terms of lengthening my cycle (it seems to still be working for controlling PMS), have been short lived. Each month for the past five months, my cycle has been a few days shorter than it was the month before. This month is the second straight month I have gotten my period on a 21-day cycle. I feel like I am running out of options in terms of managing it, since birth control is not an option and most natural remedies are failing to keep me regular in the long-term. I might have to break down sooner rather than later to have a hysterectomy.

What the research says

In the meantime, I did research this a little bit to see if there is a connection between cycle length and endometriosis. In particular, I found one prominent study from 2016 that was a meta-analysis of 11 case-control studies on this topic. It concluded that those with menstrual cycles that are 27 days or less had higher incidences of endometriosis, as compared to those who have cycles 29 days or longer. This may also account for why my periods have become more painful and heavier as my cycles have shortened- perhaps it’s an indication that my endometriosis has progressed.1

Do you have or are experiencing shorter menstrual cycles? Does it seem to correlate with more pain or bleeding? What has worked for you?

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