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What Is a Long Menstrual Cycle?

Birth control pills can be used to regulate periods.
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  • Written By: Lindsay Kahl
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 17 August 2014
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The average length of the menstrual cycle is 28 days, starting with the first day of menstrual bleeding. When a young girl first begins menstruating, her cycle can be anywhere from 21 days to 45 days long. Normal menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman; for some, it might be as short as 21 days or as long as 35 days. For a healthy woman who has a history of regular menstruation, an occasional long menstrual cycle probably is no cause for alarm. If a woman's menstrual cycle is consistently longer than 35 days, she should see her doctor.

The term for menstrual cycles that are longer than 35 days is oligomenorrhea. Women who are concerned about having a long menstrual cycle should keep track of their periods over the course of several months. The first day of menstruation is counted as day one, and the cycle continues until the day before the next period begins. Some women find it helpful to keep a cycle calendar or use a menstruation resource online to help them track their periods.

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If a woman has not gotten her period in 90 days or more, she might be diagnosed with amenorrhea. Amenorrhea can be caused by many things, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, perimenopause, eating disorders, major weight loss, too much exercise or severe stress. Female athletes and women who use steroids are at a higher risk for long or absent menstrual cycles. A long menstrual cycle also can indicate an underlying medical condition such as a pituitary tumor or thyroid disease.

One serious cause of a long menstrual cycle is polycystic ovary syndrome. When a woman has polycystic ovary syndrome, small cysts develop in the ovaries. Her body also produces excessive amounts of androgens, which sometimes are referred to as male hormones. A woman could experience severe complications, including infertility, if the illness is not treated. Irregular or missed periods are a key sign of polycystic ovary syndrome, so it is crucial for a woman to seek medical advice if she experiences abnormal menstrual cycles.

Treatment options for normalizing a long menstrual cycle vary depending on the cause. For young girls who have yet to develop a normal cycle, and for older women who are entering menopause, no treatment is necessary. If the abnormality is caused by a tumor, it might need to be removed. Some doctors will prescribe birth control pills to help regulate the menstrual cycle or hormones to restore balance.

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Discuss this Article

Kat919
Post 2

@jennythelib - The answer's right in front of you! It's almost impossible that you are really having such a short menstrual cycle. The "short" periods you're noticing are probably actually ovulation bleeding! You ovulate, then a couple of weeks later, your period begins as expected. Spotting around the time of ovulation is actually an indicator of good fertility, so that's good news for you!

Personally, I had long, irregular menstrual cycles when I was trying to get pregnant. I ovulate late, and that was often the reason, but sometimes I wouldn't ovulate at all and my period just stayed away. When that happened, I called my doctor and she prescribed progesterone to start my period. (She made me take a pregnancy test first just to be safe, even though I knew I hadn't ovulated.)

Eventually, my cycles started going again on their own. One more thing to try for anyone concerned about a long menstrual cycle and fertility!

jennythelib
Post 1

I have the opposite problem: a short menstrual cycle. I seem to have my period every two or three weeks. I'll have a short one that lasts just a day or two, then a longer one that lasts four or five days, over and over again. Do I need to see my doctor? I'm interesting in getting pregnant, not right away but maybe next year, and I don't know how I would know when I'm ovulating.

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