How Long Does a Period Last? [and what affects it]

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How Long Does a Period Last?

Are you one of those people who has their period for just two or three days?

I’ve been praying all my life to be you.

My cycle is slightly different. I start off with a slow to moderate drip on day one, only for day two to really jump start my period into full-on geyser mode - and I’m talkin’ old faithful here, not one of those cute spring geysers - then, there's a tease of a slow-down on day three followed by a gradual reduction in flow all the way until day seven.

Yes, indeed. I have been blessed with the whole seven days.

And, to be honest, I'm sure an eighth day has slipped in there every once in a while.

I'm a marathoner like that…

How long is the average menstrual cycle?

Menstrual cycles typically are around 28 days, but anywhere between 21 and 40 days is normal.

However, not only are we people, we are people of mystery (Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, or Edgar Allen Poe…your choice).

Part of the mystery of being a menstruating person means that all cycles may not be the same number of days, and the length of our cycles (and periods) may change sometimes from period to period. In fact, apparently 14 to 25 percent of all menstruating people have irregular periods on a regular basis (although I could say these people benefit from the mystery of what their period might be like on a month by month basis, I would justifiably be slapped).

What's more, the number of days that people are typically on their period varies throughout their lifetime, starting when we are teenagers.

Length of first periods

Along with all the weirdness you have to deal with as a teenager (blink once, you get zits) you also typically get your period in your teens.

And, of course, because you're a teenager, you're probably not going to get regular periods right away (I mean, why make it easy); in fact, it's common to have really irregular periods for a year or two, meaning that the number of days can really vary.

AND, it can take up to 6 years for your period to normalize (whatever that means for you). This is because your ovaries have just been jump started, and they aren't used to the regular work-out.

4 external factors that affect period length

Even after you have passed through those teen years, you aren't in the clear; there are a number of reasons why the number of days on your period may vary.

  1. Birth Control

    For starters, using birth control can affect the number of days your period lasts. If you are using a combined hormonal contraceptive like a contraceptive pill, contraceptive patch, or contraceptive ring, it is pretty normal to experience shorter periods (hooray!). This is because the hormones in these products are designed to overpower and override the hormones produced by your very own ovaries.

    For example, the estrogen in the pill tricks the lining of the uterus to build up but much less than it would naturally, and likewise the progesterone component counteracts the estrogen build up, so the lining to be shed is overall thinner than normal.

    In addition, certain progesterone-only birth control methods, like progesterone containing IUDs, contraceptive implants, and injectable contraceptives (like Depo-provera), can shorten the number of days you have your period and even eliminate it altogether.

  2. Everyday Stress

    With everything menstruating people endure because well, it's life, it is pretty common and perfectly fine to have one or two abnormal periods a year.

    Your partner washed your favorite white shirt with his load of reds?

    Your trusty judgement-protective shield malfunctioned on your last trip to see your mother?

    Your bosshole could not be satisfied with a single thing you did this week?

    Not enough chocolate in your diet?

    Stress is not your bff, my friend (in fact, she's more of a mean girl), and of course can be a major factor screwing with your hormones and the number of days your period lasts.

    Changes in period length can be caused by illness, significant weight loss or weight gain, abortion, miscarriages, and big emotional events such as grief. Not eating enough calories and working out too much can also affect your period, and even some medications can cause changes in how long you have your period.

  3. Sleep Disorders

    And yet, there's still more! Sleep disorders can cause long-term period shifts as can working the night-shift at your job (yup, being Wonder Woman does have its downside).

    Jet lag can also mess with your cycle, while chronically not getting enough sleep can throw a big wrench in your period.

  4. Age

    Menstruating people’s periods again start to change in her 30s or 40s.

    Starting to approach menopause means that your hormones have started to get out of whack, leading to changes in your cycles. With lower levels of estrogen, there is less buildup of the uterine lining, so women experience lighter and shorter periods.

Don’t stress the length of your period (but be aware)

While it's a relief to know that changes in our period length are normal and nothing to stress over, it's also really important to know about the medical conditions that can affect period length.

A number of completely harmless health conditions can do a number on the length of your period, like fibroids, polyps and benign uterine growths, making it heavy and last longer.

This is also true with other conditions like endometriosis, chronic pelvic inflammatory disease, and thyroid disease, which are somewhat more serious and need to be addressed and treated.

Generally, a good rule is that your period length is normal unless it bothers you, and then it is a good idea to sit down and discuss it with your doctor.