Periods (menstruation)

Sometimes it can feel embarrassing talking about periods – but remember, periods are normal. You are entitled to ask for the help that you need to experience good menstrual health and wellbeing.

A period is the part of the menstrual cycle when women, girls and people who menstruate bleed from their vagina.

For most people this happens every 28 days or so, but it's common for periods to start sooner or later than this. It can range from day 24 to day 38 of your cycle. Periods last from around 4 to 8 days.

If you’re aged 26 or under or are looking for information to help a young person, you can find out more about periods on the Young Scot website.

You can get period products for free in Scotland in a range of places. You can contact your local council to find out where you can access free products in your area or you can use the PickupMyPeriod app.

From mid-August 2022, by law, councils and education providers have to make these products available for free for anyone who needs them.

Useful apps

Android - PickupMyPeriod app

IOS - PickupMyPeriod app

Further information about free period products

What to expect

Periods can last anything between 4 and 8 days, but usually last for about 5 days. The bleeding tends to be heaviest in the first 2 days – but everyone is different.

When your period is at its heaviest, the blood will be red. On lighter days, it may be pink, brown or black.

You'll lose about 5 to 12 teaspoons of blood during your period although some women bleed more heavily than this.

Further information on heavy periods

When do periods start?

Periods start during puberty. The average age for puberty to start in girls is 11, but can be earlier or later.

Periods usually begin at around the age of 12. Some girls will start them later, and some earlier – everyone is different. To start with, periods might not happen every month but from the ages of around 16 to 18 most people who menstruate will find their periods are regular.

It can be helpful to keep a note of your period dates and symptoms using a calendar, a diary or an app. This can help you know when to expect your period and have period products with you.

If you haven’t started your period by around 16 though, it’s a good idea to see your doctor to find out why it hasn’t happened yet. However, a delay in starting periods isn't usually anything to worry about.

Further information on delayed periods

What is ‘normal’?

Everyone experiences periods differently, but it's important to know what isn’t 'normal'. A good way of thinking about this is that your period shouldn't stop you doing the things you would normally. For example going to school, work, taking part in sports or other activities.

If you have any concerns, pain or discomfort during your period, there's lots of help available. You don't have to suffer.

Non-urgent advice: Speak to your doctor if:

  • your periods are affecting your day to day life
  • you're worried about your periods
  • you experience changes in your period

If you keep a note of your period dates and symptoms using a calendar, a diary or an app you can then discuss these with your doctor who can decide if any tests or treatments might be necessary.

If you’re seeing your doctor, there are some useful pieces of information to think about beforehand:

  • the first day of your last period (when it started)
  • how many days your period usually lasts
  • what was the shortest time between your periods (from the first day of one period to the first day of the next)
  • what was the longest time between your periods (from the first day of one period to the first day of the next)
  • how often you need to change your period products on a heavy day
  • if you are over 25, when you had your last smear test

If your doctor thinks a health condition might be causing your symptoms, your doctor will talk to you about this, and if any tests or treatment might be needed.

If you have any questions about your care, these questions can help you get the information you might need.

Managing periods

There are lots of different period products to choose from. Everyone is different, so you can choose which ones suit you best. Options include:

  • period pads
  • tampons
  • menstrual cups
  • period pants

Further information about choosing period products

Period pain

A lot of people experience pain with their periods. This can be anything from dull achy cramps to intense pain that feels unmanageable and cannot be easily relieved.

There are lots of options for treating milder period pain, for example:

  • a hot water bottle
  • gentle exercise
  • pain relief, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – always follow the manufacturer's instructions

You can speak to your pharmacist for advice on pain relief. For more severe pain, there are other types of medications which are only available from your doctor.

Further information about period pain

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

Changes in your body's hormone levels before your period can cause physical and emotional changes and some people experience mood changes or tiredness before and during their period. This is known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). How or if you experience it can change throughout your life.

Some women experience severe PMS with symptoms that are unmanageable and impact their day to day life, including their relationships.

The most extreme form of PMS is known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). It's less common than PMS but if you experience PMDD or severe PMS it's really important that you seek help and advice from your doctor.

Further information about PMS and PMDD

Heavy menstrual bleeding (heavy periods)

Heavy menstrual bleeding is one of the most common reasons for people who menstruate to see their doctor. According to Women’s Health Concern, 1 in 3 women describe their period as heavy and at least 1 in 20 women speak to their doctor every year about this problem.

For many people, heavy periods have no cause. For others, it can be due to a health condition.

If you experience heavy periods that feel unmanageable or stop you doing the things you would normally, speak to your doctor.

Further information about heavy periods

Irregular periods

Some people may experience irregular periods that don’t come every month. This is often the case when girls start their periods but it can also be caused by things like stress, certain health conditions or pregnancy. Irregular periods can also be a sign of menopause.

If you think you might be pregnant, it’s important to take a pregnancy test as soon as possible.

Further information about your options if you're pregnant

If you are not pregnant, you should speak to your doctor if you:

  • have started your period but haven’t had one for a while (3 to 6 months)
  • bleed between your periods, after sex or after the menopause
  • experience other irregularities with your periods, for example the number of days in between your period keeps changing or your periods are coming closer together or further apart than usual

It can be helpful to keep a note of your period dates and symptoms using a calendar, a diary or an app. You can then discuss this with your doctor who can decide if any tests or treatments might be necessary.

Further information about irregular periods

Bleeding between periods (spotting) or bleeding after sex

Some people will bleed between periods (known as spotting) or bleed after sex. There are lots of different reasons why this might happen but if you experience this you should speak to your doctor.

Periods and pregnancy

If you're trying to get pregnant, or you don't want to get pregnant, it's important to know how your period is linked to pregnancy.

Further information about periods and pregnancy

Last updated:
19 May 2022