When Periods Cause Problems: Help for Girls and Parents

Teen period problems | CU OB-GYN | Photo of unhappy teenagerIt’s not uncommon to encounter preteen and teen girls that are having problems with their periods, and in fact missing a few days of school each month because of it. These days can add up quickly and often have direct consequences, including frustration about needing to catch up in class, lower grades or course failure, and increased family conflict about school attendance and schoolwork.

Even though we have made so much progress in talking openly about women’s health issues, there is often a cloud of embarrassment and misinformation that can delay or even prevent girls from seeking and receiving treatment for problem periods.

It can be a hard subject for girls to bring up with their parents, teachers, coaches and pediatric providers; and, even when they do, they may be dismissed as having a “female issue” that they “just need to deal with.”

The good news is that girls don’t just have to deal with it

We let girls and their parents know that there are safe and effective ways to treat their problem periods. Whether it’s periods causing pain, heavy bleeding, irregular bleeding or other serious concerns, there is a treatment that is right for each girl and will allow her to go to school and do the things that she needs to do.

The first step in treating problem periods is looking at the big picture and seeing what changes can be made. We know that the following simple changes can help:

  • Eating nutritious foods, including fruits, veggies, protein and complex carbs
  • Limiting or altogether avoiding fast foods and sugary drinks, such as soda, juices, energy drinks and sweet teas
  • Getting regular exercise; 60 minutes each day
  • Sleeping enough; 8 hours each night and catch up when needed
  • If cramping and pain are a problem, using a heating-pad helps, so does taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen
  • Keeping track of bleeding days and days that cramps/pain are a problem. Noticing what (if anything) makes better or worse
  • Keeping track of moods and emotions. Learning relaxation techniques, and getting help for depression and anxiety if needed
  • Calling your health provider right away if you have severe pain, heavy or prolonged bleeding.

The next step in treating problem periods is working with your health provider to consider medical therapy, the most common of which is low-dose hormonal therapy. These medications are very safe for preteen and teen girls to use, and they work very well. Although many of these options are packaged as “birth control,” the medications are being used for their noncontraceptive effects. This means they decrease or eliminate bleeding and pain, can be used to regulate periods, and can help with other concerns such as acne, premenstrual mood changes or headaches.

Do you know girls, teens and young women who suffer during their periods—missing school, work, or other activities? There is no reason for them to just “deal with it.” Safe and effective options are available to address these concerns.

Dr. Buyers is a Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecologist practicing at Children’s Hospital Colorado.