Thanks to the amazing work of the charity endometriosis UK I'm happy to say menstrual wellbeing is going to be added to the national curriculum in 2020. But it's sad that it's taken so long. There are so many things we can learn about our health by listening to the signs of our periods but many of them are just swept under the rug by women and doctors alike.
It takes an average of 7.5 yrs to diagnose endometriosis in the UK, partly because of the difficulty of diagnosis but largely because of poor education which leads to symptoms and signs being ignored. This is especially easy to do with teenage patients because periods are so unpredictable for the first few years that anything unusual can be dismissed as just temporary, natural and nothing worth investigating. I do wonder if a culture of treating patients, especially teens, as if they know nothing about their own body's may contribute too. We certainly have a centuries old sexist reluctance to research menstrual illnesses like endometriosis (Perez, 2019). But these things SHOULD be investigated, shouldn't be ignored and shouldn't be offered the contraceptive pill as some sort of cure all "hormone balancer".
Many women that I've treated for hormone problems begin their story with being prescribed the pill as a teen (that's not to say the pill caused a hormone condition, but that the pill was given for symptoms that were never properly investigated then ignored using the pill as a temporary cover up job).
So here are some things your period may be doing or do at some point in the future that you should always ask to be looked into by your gp. Don't take no for an answer.
1. Hurt so much you can't do what you want. While it may be common, even natural, for periods to hurt, it should never be so bad that you have to change your life around it. Painful periods can be a sign of endometriosis for instance.
2. Bleed so much you have to wear two types of protection at once. Any blood loss that you deem to be "too much" is enough to warrant help from your medical advisor. You shouldn't have to measure in mls a specific amount of blood loss to qualify for help. The explanation I've given of two types of protection is an arbitrary example just to get the point across.
3. Last longer than 7 days. A period lasting longer than 7 days could be a sign of a hormone condition such as fibroids or endometriosis and should always be looked in to. (Popat et.al., 2008)
4. Leave you feeling weak. Periods can be a drain if they last a long time or are heavy, if you are left feeling weak, dizzy or tired after one then have it checked out. You'll probably find iron tonics during your bleed a helpful supportive thing to do.
5. Be shorter than 3 days. If your period is shorter than 3 days it probably means you didn't grow mucb endometrial lining that month and it's worth knowing why. It could have been stress or it could be something like endometriosis or PCOS.
6. Bleeding in the middle of the cycle should always be investigated even if it's the first time it's ever happened to you. It might be nothing, but it could be cancer so don't muck about. Get it seen to early so it can be treated before it becomes life threatening. (Hope that hasn't scared the bejeesus out of you. I wondered about not mentioning cancer but then I thought, it's not voldemort, it's not the big baddie it once was. A lot of cancers should be treated and by not naming it I'd be doing you a disservice! )
In conclusion, don't carry on ignoring your body. Listen to its whispers so you don't have to hear it scream.
Popat VB, Prodanov T, Calis KA, Nelson LM. The menstrual cycle: a biological marker of general health in adolescents. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008;1135:43–51.