Periods change throughout our lives and even from month to month. Sometimes they’re heavier, sometimes they disappear altogether, sometimes they turn up at the most inconvenient time, or in a weird shade you’ve never seen before. Their consistency can change, too.
Often this isn’t anything to worry about, but it can signal that you should see a doctor. Here’s our guide to the different textures of period blood, from thin to thick – what you might experience, and what it all means…
Thin and watery
If you’ve just started having periods or you were recently pregnant, light, watery bleeding is normal. It’s also fine if you’ve always had a naturally light flow or if your period tails off with a light day or two. But if it’s a sudden change, it could indicate stress or a hormone imbalance, or (more rarely) a tumor of the ovaries or fallopian tubes. Get it checked out to be on the safe side.
Slippery and slick
We all have glands in the cervix (between the vagina and uterus) which produce mucus, which keeps us healthy and helps to protect against infections and STDs (although not enough to forgo a condom). Sometimes, this mixes with period blood, lending it a more jelly-like consistency. That’s not a problem, but if you get smelly vaginal discharge at other times of the month, you might have an infection or an STD, and need to see a medical professional, stat.
What is normal, anyway? Obviously, this will be slightly different for everyone and varies depending on the day. But generally speaking, the ideal period consistency is free-flowing, thicker than the blood you’d see if you cut yourself, but always more liquid than paste.
If you have heavy periods, you’re probably used to seeing clots on your pad or in the toilet pan. That’s nothing to worry about: it just means we’re bleeding too quickly to give our bodies a chance to break down clots as they otherwise would.
But if the clots are larger than a quarter for more than a couple of cycles, you could have fibroids – harmless growths in the uterus that can nonetheless make periods heavier and more painful. Your doctor might recommend you have them removed, or at least want to keep track of them, as they’re likely to grow.
Clots can also be a sign of a miscarriage, endometriosis, or a hormonal imbalance caused by gaining or losing weight or a change of medication. In rare cases, it can indicate cancer of the uterus or cervix, so if your periods have become heavier and more painful, it’s best to book an exam. If you’re also paler and more fatigued than usual, you could have iron-deficient anemia from the blood loss. Ask your doctor to test for that, too.
Occasionally, your period might come with a white or gray rubbery chunk or two. Disconcerting, for sure, but usually just a sign that your uterine lining has come out a little more quickly than usual. It’s often due to an increase in progesterone, which makes it more likely after an ectopic pregnancy, miscarriage, or change in birth control, but it can also happen for no apparent reason.
The takeaway from all of this? Period blood comes in a range of consistencies, many of them completely natural, even if they seem weird. But if your period suddenly becomes heavier or lighter, you have a discharge that smells, or anything else just doesn’t seem right, it’s always better to get it checked out than to go with the flow.
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