How Your Period Changes As You Age

From easier cramps to a heavier flow, learn what to expect in your 20s, 30s, and 40s—and when a change to your cycle might be a sign of something serious.

We're just taking a guess here, but your period is probably not your favorite monthly event, especially when it isn't consistent.

One month you may find it's late, and the next, it's early. You might be used to a flow lasting four days, but then all of a sudden it sticks around for an entire week. Period cramps sideline you when you're caught without pain meds, but once you've stocked up on ibuprofen during your next period, you don't feel discomfort.

Changes to your menstrual cycle like these are hard to predict. Here's a better idea of what to expect through the years (as well as what might be a sign that something isn't right).

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What Period Changes Occur as You Age?


As you get older, your period will keep adjusting and evolving. These adjustments are, in part, due to normal age-related hormonal changes as well as experiences such as perimenopause, or the transition to menopause.

Changes in Your 20s

If you spent most of your teen years struggling with an unpredictable period (you know, the no-show kind that then made surprise appearances at the worst times), we've got great news: at this point in your life, your flow will likely become more consistent.

Why? It's very typical for young girls not to ovulate regularly, said Lauren Streicher, MD, a Chicago-based ob-gyn and author of Sex Rx: Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. And without regular ovulation, your periods will be more erratic.

On the other hand, when your cycle evens out and comes more or less monthly, you might start experiencing symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS symptoms can be physical, emotional, or mental, and some examples are:

  • Appetite changes
  • Bloating or gassiness
  • Clumsiness
  • Cramping
  • Depression
  • Feeling irritable, sad, or tired
  • Headaches
  • Memory or concentration problems

It can be an unpleasant surprise if you weren't used to dealing with side effects like these every month.

Another major menstruation change that tends to happen in your 20s involves going on birth control. Though many individuals may start birth control before their 20s, Using hormonal birth control will likely trigger changes to your usual flow. For example, you might experience lighter and more regular periods and less cramping.

Changes in Your 30s

For the most part, menstruation should be pretty predictable and consistent in this decade, Dr. Lauren Streicher said. However, symptoms such as a flow that is suddenly heavier or more intense pain than your usual cramps may be a sign of a bigger issue.

For example, fibroids, which are benign growths in the lining of the uterus and can leave you with heavier bleeding, are more common after age 30. And endometriosis, which is often marked by pain that might last all month, is also more common in those in their 30s or 40s.

Another game-changer for your period that may arise in your 30s is if you become pregnant during this time. Pregnancy stops periods, and breastfeeding may delay the return of your period.

Specifically, your period doesn't usually come back until six weeks after delivery if you're not breastfeeding, said Sheryl Ross, MD, an ob-gyn in Santa Monica, California, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health. Period. "And if you decide to breastfeed, your period will not return until you stop or reduce the amount of times you're nursing."

What's more, delivering a child may lead to long-term shifts to your cycle. "Many women will tell you that after they've gone through pregnancy, their cramps get better," Dr. Lauren Streicher said. "That can be caused by a number of things, but since the cervical opening becomes a little bigger, the flow comes out without requiring as strong uterine contractions."

Changes in Your 40s

Your 40s may mark the beginning of perimenopausal hormonal fluctuations, which are precursors to menopause. During this time, which is generally about seven years before menopause but can sometimes last as long as 14 years, your body prepares for menstruation to stop (which often happens in your 50s).

During perimenopause, you may find that you're having irregular periods. That means you could start experiencing longer time between periods, a heavier flow, or spotting between periods.

"The thing I always say about perimenopause symptoms is the one thing that's predictable is that nothing is predictable," Dr. Lauren Streicher said. Just remember that, even if ovulation is erratic, you can still get pregnant. An individual isn't in menopause until their periods have ceased for at least a year.

Other Concerns for Period Changes

Beyond the period changes noted previously (e.g., irregular periods, heavy flow, etc.), other changes to look out for include:

  • Menstrual migraines, especially those that affect day-to-day activities
  • Missing periods (known as amenorrhea)
  • Abnormal bleeding (i.e., any bleeding that does not happen during your period)

Whatever your age, remember that your period offers a lot of insight into overall health. So if you experience any period changes, it's a good idea to check in with a healthcare provider, Dr. Sheryl Ross said.

A Quick Review

For individuals who are menstruating, periods will change as they age. There are a number of factors that can affect how differently someone experiences their periods in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, such as birth control use, pregnancy, and hormonal changes.

However, though periods can differ depending on your age, it's still important to pay attention if your period changes drastically from what is considered personally normal for you. You'll want to see a healthcare provider so they can rule out any potential serious conditions.

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Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. MedlinePlus. Aging changes in the female reproductive system.

  2. Office on Women's Health. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

  3. Office on Women's Health. Birth control methods.

  4. Office on Women's Health. Uterine fibroids.

  5. Office on Women's Health. Endometriosis.

  6. The Office on Women's Health. Your menstrual cycle.

  7. National Institute on Aging. What is menopause?

  8. The Office on Women's Health. Period problems.

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