Having a late period can be very distressing, especially if you are used to having regular periods or concerned about an unexpected pregnancy.
Worried about a late period, but know you’re not pregnant! Missed or late periods happen for many reasons other than pregnancy. Common causes can range from hormonal imbalances to serious medical conditions.
There are also two times in a woman’s life when it’s totally normal for her period to be irregular: when it first begins, and when menopause starts. As your body goes through the transition, your normal cycle can become irregular.
Most women who haven’t reached menopause usually have a period every 28 days. However, a healthy menstrual cycle can range from every 21 to 35 days. If your period doesn’t fall within these ranges, it could be because of one of the following reasons.
Stress can throw off your hormones, change your daily routine, and even affect the part of your brain responsible for regulating your period — your hypothalamus. Over time, stress can lead to illness or sudden weight gain or loss, all of which can impact your cycle.
If you think stress might be throwing off your period, try practicing relaxation techniques and making lifestyle changes. Adding more exercise to your regimen may help get you back on track.
2. Low body weight
Women with eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, may experience missed periods. Weighing 10 percent below what’s considered a normal range for your height can change the way your body functions and stop ovulation. Getting treatment for your eating disorder and putting on weight in a healthy way can return your cycle to normal. Women who participate in extreme exercise such as long distance running/marathons may stop their periods as well.
Just as low body weight can cause hormonal changes, so can being overweight. Your doctor can recommend a diet and exercise plan that works for you if they determine that obesity is a factor in your late or missed periods.
4. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormone imbalance that comes down to a lack of ovulationis one of the most common hormonal disorders among women of childbearing age.Though the symptoms vary between individual women, those who have PCOS tend to have abnormal hormone levels, which can cause small cysts to develop on the ovaries, acne, excess facial and body hair, male-pattern baldness, and obesity.
Irregular or even absent periods are also a common feature of this condition.
Women who suspect that they have PCOS should visit their doctor for an evaluation. If not properly treated, the absence of periods during childbearing years may cause endometrial cancer.
5. Birth control
Some types of birth control, particularly hormonal methods, can cause a woman to miss a period.Typically, hormonal birth control provides a form of estrogen combined with progesterone for a set amount of time, followed by several hormone-free days. The withdrawal of these hormones triggers a period.
Sometimes, these hormones keep the lining of the uterus so thin that there is not enough of the lining to cause a period. This applies to all forms of hormonal birth control, including pills, patches, shots, implants, and rings.
In most cases, this is not harmful, but women should speak to a doctor with any concerns about their birth control method.
6. Chronic diseases
Chronic diseases such as diabetes and celiac disease also can affect your menstrual cycle. Changes in blood sugar are linked to hormonal changes, so even though it’s rare, poorly controlled diabetes could cause your period to be irregular.
Celiac disease causes inflammation that can lead to damage in your small intestine, which may prevent your body from absorbing key nutrients. This can cause late or missed periods.
7. Early peri-menopause
Most women begin menopause between ages 45 to 55. Women who develop symptoms around age 40 or earlier are considered to have early peri-menopause. This means your egg supply is winding down, and the result will be missed periods and eventually the end of menstruation.
Irregular estrogen levels can alter a woman’s menstrual cycle, making it common for women in perimenopause to experience irregular or missed periods. Once a woman has gone a full year without a period, she is said to have gone through menopause.
8. Thyroid issues
An overactive or underactive thyroid gland could also be the cause of late or missed periods. The thyroid gland, located in your neck, regulates your metabolism. It also interacts with many other systems in your body to keep things running smoothly The thyroid regulates your body’s metabolism, so hormone levels can be affected as well.
Thyroid issues can usually be treated with medication. After treatment, your period will likely return to normal.
When to see your doctor
If you are concerned about missed periods, it can be helpful to keep a written record of your periods, including the start and end dates, and a list of any other associated symptoms.
If your doctor has a written record to refer to, they can make a diagnosis more quickly. Using a simple calendar can work, but there are also apps available for smartphones.
Having regular check-ups with a gynecologist or women’s health specialist can help address many questions about menstrual cycles. Sometimes, a late period is an isolated occurrence and is not a cause for concern.
However, certain symptoms may require medical attention. They include:
- missing several periods in a row
- a positive pregnancy test
- having symptoms of PCOS, as described above
- having gained or lost a lot of weight
- feeling overly stressed
If you have the following symptoms, contact a doctor right away:
- unusually heavy bleeding
- severe pain
- nausea and vomiting
- bleeding that lasts longer than seven days
- bleeding after you’ve already entered menopause and had no periods for a year
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