What Light Periods Might Mean and When to Contact a Doctor

Medically Reviewed By Carla Prophete, MPAS, PA-C
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Light periods during a menstrual cycle have unusually light flow or are of short duration. Light periods most commonly affect people who have just begun menstruating or are approaching menopause. They can also be due to an underlying medical condition. Although the menstrual cycle varies, most females have a period approximately every 28 days. Each period typically lasts 4–7 days.

This information is from, in part, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

Light periods are not the same as the absence of menstrual periods, medically known as amenorrhea. People usually menstruate 2–3 tablespoons. Females with light periods may menstruate less than this amount or bleed for fewer days.

Sex and gender exist on a spectrum. This article uses the terms “female” and “male” to refer to sex assigned at birth. 

Learn more about the difference between sex and gender here.

Keep reading to learn about possible reasons for light periods and when to contact a doctor.

What can cause light periods?

concept of menstruation with red confetti on underwear
Yulia Lisitsa/Getty Images

Light periods may be typical for you or due to a shift or imbalance in hormone levels. They may relate to a specific time in your life, birth control, or an underlying condition.

Learn about ovulation and the menstrual cycle here.

Beginning menstruation

People just beginning to menstruate may experience light periods. Menstruation may last less than the usual 4–7 days. Cycles may occur every 21 to 45 days. According to ACOG, developing a regular cycle may take 6 years or more.

Menopausal transition

Light periods commonly affect females approaching menopause because, at that time in their lives, they produce less estrogen, one of the hormones involved in the menstrual cycle. If you are experiencing light or irregular periods and are 45 years or older, you may be approaching menopause.

By definition, menopause is when you have not had a menstrual cycle for 12 months. However, you can experience a change in your periods for many years leading up to menopause. This transition is perimenopause.

Learn surprising facts about menopause here.

Hormonal contraceptives

Depending on the method, females who take hormonal contraceptives may experience lighter periods or no periods.

Certain forms of birth control, such as birth control pills, are designed to replicate a menstrual cycle. The first 21 pills contain estrogen and progestin, and the next 7 do not contain hormones. Your uterus responds to hormone levels by shedding part of its lining. This is withdrawl bleeding.

Birth control reduces the “hormone-free interval” and withdrawl bleeding. You may experience shorter and lighter period days. Some females choose certain contraceptives to lighten their period.

Also, you may experience unexpected or “breakthrough” bleeding with contraceptives, especially in the first 2–6 months. Contact your OB-GYN if you have concerns about light periods with birth control.

Learn about irregular menstruation here.

Polycystic ovary syndrome

With polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), the ovaries make more androgens, leading to an imbalance in sex hormone levels. Periods may be light, irregular, or absent.

Learn about other symptoms of PCOS here.

Excessive exercise

You may experience irregular or no periods if you exercise vigorously and frequently. This activity can decrease your body fat, affecting hormone levels and your menstrual cycle. Light periods may be part of the female athlete triad, a condition that includes low bone mass and less weight than is healthy.

Stress

A high level of stress for a prolonged time can affect ovulation and the menstrual cycle. Stress affects the hypothalamus and pituitary glands in your brain. These glands, in turn, regulate female reproductive hormone production, among many other functions.

Overactive thyroid

Light periods are a potential symptom of hyperthyroidism, a condition in which your metabolism is faster than usual. If light periods are due to an overactive thyroid, you may experience fewer periods and other high thyroid hormone levels symptoms.

Learn about overactive thyroid symptoms here.

Eating disorder

An eating disorder can cause ovulation to stop, resulting in light, irregular, or no periods. Anorexia nervosa is one example. Additional symptoms of anorexia nervosa may include decreased breast size, pelvic pain, and atrophic vaginitis, when the vaginal walls become thin, dry, and irritated due to low estrogen levels.

Pregnancy

You may experience bleeding even when you are pregnant. Bleeding is common and is usually less serious in early pregnancy than later in pregnancy. Regardless of when it occurs, contact your OB-GYN for bleeding in pregnancy.

Ectopic pregnancy

An ectopic pregnancy can cause heavy or light bleeding. This is a life threatening pregnancy in which the fertilized egg grows outside the uterus. You may experience the same symptoms as a regular pregnancy, such as tender breasts and nausea.

Seek prompt medical care for these possible symptoms of ectopic pregnancy:

When should you contact a doctor for light periods?

A light period is not usually a cause for concern. You should contact a doctor for consistently light periods or in case of the following symptoms:

  • persistent abdominal pain or cramping
  • frequent infections, especially yeast or fungal infections
  • missed menstrual periods
  • pain during sexual intercourse

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and may perform a pelvic examination and other tests to identify a possible reason for your light periods.

Questions may include:

  • When did you start menstruating?
  • Is there a possibility you could be pregnant?
  • Have you always had light periods?
  • When did you first notice that your periods were light or getting lighter?
  • Do you have any other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or cramping?
  • Are you using any contraceptive device or medication?
  • What medications are you taking?

Other frequently asked questions

Carla Prophete, MPAS, PA-C, has reviewed the following frequently asked questions.

Why is my period so light?

A light period may be typical for you. Health conditions that cause light periods include overactive thyroid, PCOS, and high stress levels. Long-term but reversible hormonal birth control can also cause light periods.

How can you make your period lighter?

You may be able to make your period lighter or temporarily stop having periods by using contraception that delivers hormones to prevent ovulation. Also, if you regularly engage in intense physical training, you may stop having periods.

Does light bleeding after a missed period mean I am pregnant?

Maybe. It is common for women to bleed early in pregnancy, even after a missed period. However, a physician may need to examine other possible causes of light bleeding or a missed period. These include miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, and other conditions that affect hormone levels.

Summary

Light periods are when there is less bleeding or fewer days of bleeding. Light periods are common when a person first starts menstruating. They also may be typical for you or due to hormonal imbalances, contraceptive use, or pregnancy, among other causes.

Having light periods every so often is not typically a health concern. However, you should contact a doctor if it persists or you experience other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or missed periods.

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Medical Reviewer: Carla Prophete, MPAS, PA-C
Last Review Date: 2022 Aug 8
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