Healthy Cycle, Healthy Life
Now, more than ever, tracking your cycle changes is about as simple as it could get.
“Data collection is all the rage, and this applies to menstrual cycles,” Dweck said. “Women are using period apps that help them identify signs—not just whether their periods are getting shorter, but also whether they are developing migraines or other issues that may be related to their cycles.”
If you’re not tracking your cycle already, now is the time to start doing so, and there are plenty of apps to choose from to get you started. But that’s just the first step. What you do with that information also matters.
If you think something is even slightly off, it’s important to speak up and share the information you’ve collected with your doctor. It’s not uncommon for patients to sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about their periods. But unlike the other vital signs, your doctor can’t assess this one without the information you provide.
“I will just make a plug for the annual gyno exam, which a lot of people have put aside because of the pandemic and confusion over changes to pap smear rules,” Dr. Dweck says. “This may be a really good time to identify an issue you may not have necessarily noticed yourself.”
A Reformed Tracker
As for Parker, as she noticed her cycles becoming even more “wacky,” she became determined to figure out what was going on. She began tracking her period and brought that information to a doctor, who diagnosed the problem: perimenopause.
This diagnosis explained other symptoms she had been experiencing, ones she thought were unrelated to her period problems. “I had to educate myself about what was happening to my body,” she said. “I was experiencing a whole host of new symptoms—weight gain, joint pain, mood swings, insomnia, memory loss—all because of my hormones.”
Without knowledge of what was going on with her cycle, that diagnosis might have taken even longer. Today, the founder of Perimenopause Nation, an online space for people beginning this life stage, tracks her cycle religiously, and only wishes she had started doing so sooner.
When it comes to the fifth vital sign, Parker says she learned, “Head in the sand is not a good strategy.”