Why do doctors always ask about your last period? The experts explain.

An unwrapped tampon in a woman's hand.

Your period can reveal a lot about your health. (Getty Images)

No matter what a woman brings to the doctor’s office, she can expect one question without fail: “When was the first day of your last menstrual period?”

Dr. Alla Vash-Margita, chief of pediatric and adolescent gynecology at Yale Medicine, tells Yahoo Life that while one reason for asking the question is to assess whether a woman might be pregnant, the answer can reveal much more about a woman’s health.

“O-gynecologists pay close attention to menstruation in general,” she explains. “Indeed, it has been proposed that menstruation be viewed as a vital sign in people with a uterus. Regular periods… they are just as important as blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, heart rate.

Because menstruation can reveal so much about a woman’s health, says Vash-Margita, all doctors, not just ob-gyns, should pay attention to women’s periods.

Vash-Margita says regular periods are “a sign of a healthy body.” She explains that periods that stop or are spaced more than 45 days apart can be a symptom of “thyroid gland disease, disordered eating, strenuous exercise, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and some other conditions ” in addition to pregnancy.

In addition to tracking the day your period starts, Dr. cramps, pain during intercourse, bleeding between periods, mood changes during the menstrual cycle, and migraines. This is because these symptoms can be helpful in diagnosing and treating several health conditions.

Without monitoring, women may miss changes that are important to their overall health, especially if those changes are subtle or happen gradually.

Even if a woman has no immediate health concerns and isn’t concerned about becoming pregnant, monitoring periods can help establish a baseline that may be helpful later. Symptoms that indicate a problem for one woman may be completely normal for another, depending on her health history.

Luu explains that “Knowing the first day of your last period generally means keeping track of your menstrual cycles and understanding what is normal for you.She adds that monitoring periods and associated symptoms can show “major changes that may require further investigation.”

Advise anyone who menstruates to let their doctor know if their periods are longer than 35 days or shorter than 21 days, they bleed for more than seven days, they soak one or more tampons or pads in less than two hours, have not had a period for more than three months, experience severe pain at any time during their period or bleed between periods, after intercourse or after menopause.

If a woman notices changes in her cycle, however, experts say there’s no need to panic. Dr. Dan Nayot, a gynecologist, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist and chief medical adviser for Bird&Be, tells Yahoo Life: “There are many options for medically managing menstrual cycles to improve… the quality of life”. Nayot advises those who menstruate to defend themselves “if the frequency, duration, amount of flow, or associated pain is having a negative impact” on their lives. He adds that anyone who menstruates should “be proactive” with their care and see their doctor for blood work and other tests when in doubt.

Knowing the first day of a woman’s last menstrual cycle is helpful in other ways. Dr. Arlene Vai, an ob-gyn and specialist who studies endometriosis at Hera Biotech, tells Yahoo Life it’s important to know “what phase of the cycle the patient is in at the moment, follicular or luteal. Sometimes symptoms are tied to a certain part of their cycle, and this is important to know for both diagnosis and treatment. Without knowing the date of a patient’s last menstrual period, it can be difficult to determine where in her cycle she is.

This is explained by Liesel Teen, a labor and birth nurse and founder of Mommy Labor Nursewhere you are in your menstrual cycle can influence several things, including your weight, vaginal discharge, breast texture and vital signs”, so knowing the first day of your last menstrual period is “important information” for the your provider Teen tells Yahoo Life, “If your provider notices a change in your health since your last visit, it’s helpful to know if that change could be caused by where you are in your cycle” or something more serious.

For example, breast cancer screening can be influenced by where a woman is in her menstrual cycle. “Your breasts may feel lumpier at certain points in your cycle than others,” explains Teen. “Knowing this information could help your provider determine if the texture change is related to your cycle or should be investigated further.”

Teen acknowledges that it can be difficult to remember all of this information. She therefore recommends that anyone who menstruates keep track of their periods and symptoms with an app, calendar, or diary. Nayot adds that “aggregated data” over time gives doctors even more insight into a patient’s menstrual cycle. “Looking back at your cycles and associated symptoms you may discover some interesting patterns that could be helpful for the patient,” she says.

Teen agrees, saying, “There’s a lot of information that can be gleaned from your menstrual cycle, so having accurate information to give your provider is extremely helpful.” While women may be embarrassed to talk about their periods, Teen says doing so is “no different than discussing blood pressure results or any other health issue,” adding that it’s “important to discuss it.”

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