Doctors Think Your Period Should Be a Fifth Vital Sign

Physicians are learning to ask more questions about periods to get a better understanding of a person’s overall health

Starre Julia Vartan
Elemental
Published in
8 min readMar 16, 2020

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An illustration of a woman holding a glowing tear drop.
Illustration: Sophi Gullbrants

ItIt happens monthly, for two up to seven days at a time. A woman will menstruate for about seven years during her lifetime, on average. And yet there are still plenty of unknowns and misunderstandings around the effect menstruation has on women’s health.

“There is tremendous variation in how girls and women think about menstruation and what they define as healthy and normal,” says Dr. Geri Hewitt, a professor of obstetrics/gynecology at Ohio State University, and a chair of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) adolescent health committee. “There is also tremendous cultural variation regarding expectations around menses.”

Some of the most persistent misconceptions about periods are that irregularity every month is normal, that super-heavy cycles are just part of “the curse,” that severe period pain is something everyone with a period experiences, and that you can’t get pregnant while menstruating. None of these are true.

The varying mores around periods means that a vitally important piece of information gets…

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Starre Julia Vartan
Elemental

AKA The Curious Human. Science journalist & nature nerd w/serious wanderlust. Former geologist. Still picks up rocks. Words in @NatGeo @SciAm @Slate @CNN, here.