Amenorrhea and Irregular Periods
As women, we grow up knowing very little about the female anatomy, except for the basics. Of course we all remember the videos we saw as children in school about your first visit from Aunt Flo. Many of us were told that Aunt Flo comes on a "regular" 28-day cycle. But, no one told us what it means if Aunt Flo visits on an irregular schedule or never visits at all. It is important to know the facts because some women incorrectly assume the worst when it is totally normal, while others ignore the issue when it could be something more serious that requires medical attention. The RepHreshing Truth wants to educate you about these things you never learned and were too afraid to ask. We want to empower you to take control of your feminine health.
What are Irregular Periods?Irregular periods are defined by a single missed period or a period that doesn't occur on a regular schedule. Many women experience irregular menstrual cycles, especially during the first few years or last few years of a woman's menstrual cycle. This is usually nothing to fret over.
Doctors often refer to the menstrual cycle as a 28-day cycle but in reality, these cycles vary from woman to woman. 28 days is just an average that doctors use when, in actuality, some women have a cycle that lasts 24 days while others last 34. As per WebMD, women typically have between 11 and 13 menstrual periods each year but for some it can be more and, for others, less. According to an article from The Nemours Foundation, some women's periods are very regular — arriving like clockwork while others get theirs at slightly different times each month. In addition, the length of the period can vary, sometimes lasting only 2 days, sometimes lasting 7 days. So, if you're worried that you may have an irregular cycle, you should realize that there isn't really such a thing as a "regular cycle". A normal period doesn't have to be regular.
What causes Irregular Periods?The amount of hormones your body manufactures varies from cycle to cycle, and this makes a difference in the amount and length of your period. Irregular periods can also happen for a number of reasons including, but not limited to:
- Weight Loss or Gain
- Eating disorders
- Certain medicines
Hormone imbalances can also cause irregular periods. For example, thyroid issues and androgen production have both been linked to menstrual irregularities.
When is My Irregular Period No Longer Normal?If you start having periods that last more than 7 days, cycles that regularly last less than 21 days or more than 45 days, spotting between your periods, very heavy bleeding during your period or severe pain (beyond your normal menstrual cramps), you should see a medical professional. Also, if your irregular periods are accompanied by unexplained weight gain or loss or you are having excess hair growth on the face, chin, chest and abdomen, you should see your doctor. If you have missed 3 consecutive periods, you should see your doctor. (Nemours) Your doctor will be able to help you correctly diagnose the cause and come up with a solution. And, in some cases, you may be diagnosed with Amenorrhea.
What is Amenorrhea?Amenorrhea is defined by Mayo Clinic as "the absence of menstruation — one or more missed menstrual periods." More specifically, women who have missed more than 3 consecutive periods have amenorrhea, as do girls who haven't begun menstruation by age 15 (Mayo Clinic).
Causes of AmenorrheaThe causes of Amenorrhea can range from small lifestyle factors to larger anatomical issues. Pregnancy is actually the most common cause of Amenorrhea. This makes sense, considering that while pregnant a woman does not have her menstrual cycle. The second most common cause of Amenorrhea is menopause. Again, this makes sense because menopause is defined by the ending of menstrual cycles — specifically, 12 months without a period. Other common causes include:
- Eating Disorders
- Too Much Exercise
- Weight Loss or Gain
- Birth Defects
- Hormonal Imbalance
If this list looks similar to the list for irregular periods, that is no accident. Many of the issues that can cause irregular periods can, in more extreme cases, cause Amenorrhea.
What to do if you have AmenorrheaIf you have missed at least three menstrual periods in a row, or if you've never had a menstrual period and you're age 15 or older, you should consult with a doctor. Only a doctor can review your specific situation, test your hormone levels and determine the cause of the problem.
Treatment is based on the precise cause. MedicineNet notes that treatment methods vary widely depending on the underlying cause. They can include stress reduction therapies, nutritional counseling, treatment of hormonal imbalances, reducing or adding certain medications, even surgery. Any treatment should be specific to your individual situation.
Trust Your InstinctsWhile the information gathered here is based on medical resources, like WebMD and MedicineNet, only YOU can determine if you need to seek medical attention. You know your body better than anyone, so if things don't seem right to you, see your doctor. Each individual person is different, and only by seeking advice from a medical professional can you know what is really going on with you. Don't let fear or embarrassment hold you back, if you think you need medical advice.