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Missing your period? That would be a first!
While missing your period may seem like a funny idea, this condition can wreak havoc on the female body.
When a menstrual cycle is difficult to track or missing in action completely, you can start to feel like something is off, and you may have other symptoms indicative of greater issues.
Long-term menstrual irregularities could be a sign of undiagnosed disorders with your uterus and ovaries.
It is important to seek out a gynecologist for all issues related to your cycle.
Whether you are in severe pain, have heavy bleeding, missed a cycle, or just want to control the symptoms of your current menses, an OB/GYN is the best way to sort through problems and find a solution to what is going on with your body.
What are Irregular Periods?
Many women experience irregular menstrual periods as soon as they get their first menses, while others can count on their cycle like clockwork.
Irregular menstrual periods may also include heavy bleeding, extreme pain, or very light bleeding.
These symptoms should not be ignored. One, they diminish your quality of life.
Two, there may be underlying issues that, if left untreated, will become worse, creating complications such as infertility.
What does a “normal” cycle look like?
Every woman has her own unique menstrual pattern.
However, in a typical menstrual cycle, a hormonal courtship ensues between the pituitary gland in the brain and ovaries that lasts around 28 days.
You can determine a normal cycle by the number of days from the first day of one period to the first day of the next, in most cases.
When irregular, women have a harder time tracking when a period will arrive, or may not have one at all.
Menstruation typically lasts 3 to 5 days.
Irregular menstrual periods may mean that you have a shorter cycle, longer cycle, heavier bleeding, clotting, light spotting, or extreme pain during your menses.
You may also have prolonged, constant bleeding that lasts several weeks.
Skipped periods are a sign of irregularities, as well.
Many women will often ignore menstrual irregularities, believing it is a one-time occurrence or just temporary.
While this can certainly be the case, understanding how the female body produces hormones and regulates the menstrual cycle is important to your long-term well-being.
This article talks through some of the reasons for a late period, including complications with irregular menstrual cycles, and what to look for in case you experience a skipped or prolonged period.
Irregular Periods Reasons
You may be asking yourself, “Is it normal to miss a period?”
The answer is yes.
All cycles are different due to the number of hormones in your body.
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The female body has a couple of very important sex hormones that help regulate the menstrual cycle.
The two hormones that are responsible for kicking off menstruation include estrogen and progesterone.
These female sex hormones prepare the body for pregnancy and signal the brain to create follicle stimulating hormone, which starts the process of maturing a follicle inside the ovary that contains an egg.
When there is not a pregnancy, the hormones signal the body to start menstruation.
Women also have luteinizing hormone, and testosterone, as well.
When these hormones are too low or high, there could be variations in your period.
If you experience any of the following symptoms, you should consult with a doctor to see if hormone therapy or birth control can help:
- Missed period
- Heavy bleeding (menorrhagia)
- Prolonged bleeding
- Unbearable cramps (dysmenorrhea)
- Heavy mood swings
- No bleeding or minimal spotting
- Hair loss
- Problems with blood sugar
- Inability to concentrate
Hormonal imbalances can wreak havoc on more than your menstrual cycle.
Some treatments include hormone therapy, in which you may take a drug such as Megestrol, a prescribed progesterone medication.
It may also be as simple as switching or starting birth control, which also helps to regulate hormones.
As you talk to your doctor, make sure to ask questions about each option available, and what the drawbacks are to any medications, particularly when discussing birth control.
Have you been trying for a baby, or was it unexpected?
The simple reason for missing a period could be that your body is preparing for pregnancy, and has fertilized an egg inside your ovaries.
In this case, a pregnancy test from a drug store can be a huge help in identifying the issue.
If you do not have any luck with the pregnancy test, you can talk to a gynecologist, as sometimes there are too-high levels of human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is the pregnancy hormone used for displaying a positive result on the test.
Some home pregnancy tests are not sensitive enough to detect a pregnancy if these levels are too low.
If you think you are pregnant, check for these early signs below, and conduct an at-home test first:
- Implantation bleeding or spotting and cramping after the egg is fertilized
- Breast sensitivity
- Nausea (Morning sickness)
- Frequent urination
- Weight gain
- Back pain
If you are pregnant, you will likely start to show these signs as your pregnancy progresses.
You should not wait to talk to a doctor if you feel that you are pregnant.
An OB/GYN can also conduct a thorough exam and provide you with helpful information, especially if this is your first pregnancy.
An ectopic pregnancy could be one of the reasons for a late period.
Your body has to undergo a process to have a successfully fertilized egg.
One of the steps is that, as the fertilized egg travels down the fallopian tube, it must attach to the uterine wall.
With an ectopic pregnancy, the egg does not attach to the uterus.
It may attach to the fallopian tube, cervix, or abdominal cavity instead.
This fertilized egg will not be able to grow unless attached to the uterus, but your body may still treat it as a regular pregnancy.
Symptoms and signs of an ectopic pregnancy include the following:
- Sharp waves of pain in the abdomen, shoulder, neck, or pelvis
- Light to heavy vaginal bleeding
- Dizziness or faintness
- Rectal pressure
- Severe pain that occurs on one side of the abdomen
Ectopic pregnancies need to be treated right away by a gynecologist to avoid future medical conditions and pregnancy risks.
A molar pregnancy occurs when the egg and sperm do not join together properly at fertilization.
Molar pregnancies occur in 1 out of every 1,000 pregnancies and can cause skipped periods.
Your doctor may refer to this as a gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD), or a hydatidiform mole.
Molar pregnancies are rare but happen due to a genetic error during fertilization.
This leads to the growth of abnormal tissue in the uterus.
Typically these pregnancies do not result in an embryo, and the tissue will grow at an increased rate compared to a normal pregnancy.
Often referred to as a mole, the appearance of the tissue will look like grape-like clusters, but this depends on whether you have a complete or partial molar pregnancy.
Complete molar pregnancies will only have placental pieces, and there will be no embryo.
A partial mole occurs when the embryo has severe birth defects.
The fetus will be overwhelmed by the abnormal growth of tissue mass.
Women are at risk for molar pregnancies if they are over the age of 40, had a prior molar pregnancy or a history of miscarriages, or if they belong to one of the ethnicities with higher rates of molar pregnancy.
Mexico, Southeast Asia, and the Philippines have higher rates than the US for molar pregnancies.
Some symptoms of molar pregnancy include:
- Pregnancy symptoms like nausea and fatigue
- Vaginal spotting, or bleeding between periods
- Skipped period
- Nausea and vomiting
- Thyroid disease
- High blood pressure
Most molar pregnancies will end naturally, expelling the tissue through the vagina.
A doctor will perform a pelvic exam or a sonogram to diagnose a molar pregnancy.
If you do experience a molar pregnancy, you may need to undergo surgery to remove the mole.
These methods include suction curettage, dilation, and vacation (D & C), or medication.
Did you know that stress can delay your period?
Stress plays a huge role in how your hormones work in your body.
If something feels off, or if cortisol levels are constantly high, you may experience irregularities in your cycle.
While skipping a period due to stress may seem like a relief, long-term complications can signal the body to decrease levels of certain hormones and cause further issues.
Are you eating a proper diet?
Malnutrition can lead to a lack of menstrual cycle, as well.
If you do not eat enough, your body will not be able to get what it needs to have a normal cycle.
Other lifestyle issues can also play a part in skipped periods.
If you are a heavy drinker, consume a lot of caffeine, or have an irregular sleep schedule, your body may not be on the same page with your hormones, leading to a skipped cycle.
As you research different possibilities, take into consideration any unhealthy habits that could be affecting the delicate balance of sex hormones in your body.
If you can cut down on coffee, eat healthy meals, and get a regular 8 hours of sleep, then your body will have a great baseline to start a regular menstrual schedule.
Menstrual cycles often change after a woman has a baby.
In fact, some mothers do not have a period of months after delivery.
Your body may not be producing enough progesterone, or it is just focused on other things like providing for your new baby.
If you are breastfeeding or have recently breastfed, you may experience some irregularities in your cycle.
Even if your period does return after pregnancy, it may not be regular at first, at least for the first few months.
As you breastfeed, your body may get confused about your schedule, especially if you do frequent night feedings.
While each woman is different and has varying levels of hormones, it is not uncommon for women to miss their periods while they lactate.
This is called lactational amenorrhea.
Mothers may find that they start menstruating at different times after each pregnancy as well.
Some mothers may even use breastfeeding to keep their periods away.
As a woman breastfeeds more, i.e. six times per day, your body will signal hormones to stand down and not initiate a menstrual cycle.
It is important to talk to a gynecologist about these irregularities and ensure that you are not causing any long-term issues with breastfeeding over a longer period of time.
Polycystic ovary syndrome causes women’s bodies to produce higher levels of the male hormone androgen.
As a result, a cyst will begin to form on the ovary.
Multiple cysts and fibroids may continue to develop if left untreated.
As PCOS causes a hormonal imbalance, the chances will increase that you have irregularities in your menstrual cycle.
However, there are long-term risks for not diagnosing PCOS at an early stage.
Your body may start to change.
You could experience increased hair development on your face and belly, and you may gain weight.
PCOS typically affects women who have diabetes, as well.
This is due to insulin resistance.
When a woman experiences PCOS, she will likely have cysts or fibroids in her ovaries, high levels of male hormones, and skipped periods.
Unfortunately, doctors are not exactly sure how women develop PCOS.
However, some of the common causes include:
- Insulin resistance
- High weight gain
You should talk to other women in your family to understand if genetics is playing a role in your irregular cycles.
This is valuable information that can help you talk through symptoms with your doctor, and come up with a plan for treatment.
Some symptoms and signs of PCOS include:
- Missed period
- Heavy bleeding
- Prolonged cycles
- Weight gain
- Darkening patches of skin
- Hair growth on face and body
- Hair loss and baldness
Treatment of PCOS varies, but typically, your doctor will prescribe hormone therapy or a progestin to treat the hormone imbalance.
This should lead to a more regular cycle.
However, you may also need surgery to remove cysts that continue to cause issues.
If you believe that you are suffering from PCOS, you should seek treatment immediately.
The long-term complications of PCOS are very serious, ranging from sleep apnea and infertility to endometrial cancer.
Your thyroid is a small gland shaped like a butterfly located at the base of your neck.
The thyroid gland is a part of a network of glands in the endocrine system.
These glands coordinate different body functions, including your metabolism.
There are two main thyroid issues that you can experience, depending on what your thyroid is doing.
If your thyroid is producing too much hormone, then you are experiencing hyperthyroidism.
If your thyroid does not produce enough hormone, then it is called hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is in overdrive.
This occurs in about 1 percent of all women.
Grave’s disease is the most common reason why women develop hyperthyroidism.
Some symptoms include:
- Racing heart
- Mood swings
- Increased sweating
- Thin skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Bulging eyes
A blood test is the only way to diagnose the level of thyroid hormone in your body.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormone.
This is the more common thyroid issue in relation to missing periods.
Some symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Missed periods
- Memory problems
- Weight gain
- Sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
A doctor can diagnose hypothyroidism with a blood test that will measure your hormone levels and see if you need thyroid hormone pills to correct the imbalance.
When starting certain medications, particularly birth control, there may be an interference with your normal cycle.
It depends on when you started taking birth control, and if you are taking the pill correctly.
If you opt for other birth control methods, such as a shot or patch, you could experience irregularities if there are complications.
Blood pressure and allergy medications have also been known to cause irregularities in the menstrual cycle.
If you notice an issue with your birth control, you could be creating a hormonal imbalance that is causing irregularities or missed periods.
A gynecologist can talk to you about different birth control methods, and which one is right based on your body and needs.
Do You Have Endometriosis?
Around the world, 1 in 10 women experiences endometriosis in their reproductive years.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue grows outside of the uterus.
This abnormal behavior can cause a lot of issues for women, including irregular bleeding, increased pain and cramping, and painful intercourse.
However, the most concerning result is that endometriosis tends to cause infertility.
This is due to lesions that form in the uterus from abnormal tissue.
While legions do not happen in all cases, it is very common to experience difficult pregnancies if you also have been diagnosed with endometriosis.
While the cause of endometriosis is not certain, most women with endometriosis do not realize that they have the condition until symptoms start to present later in life; or they may never present at all.
It can take up to 10 years for symptoms to start with endometriosis.
If you have a family member who also has endometriosis, you are five times more likely to have it yourself.
Even if you are not experiencing symptoms of endometriosis, you should talk to your doctor about the signs and symptoms as well as an exam, especially if you have a relative who also has this disease.
If you have endometriosis, you may also experience:
- Pelvic pain that grows worse during menstrual cycles
- Painful intercourse or cramping after intercourse
- Painful bowel movements, diarrhea, or constipation
- Painful urination
- Chronic fatigue
- Bloody urine
While you cannot prevent endometriosis, there are some ways to diminish the symptoms naturally, including:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Avoiding caffeine
- Avoiding alcohol
Endometriosis sufferers have a higher risk of early pregnancy complications.
If you plan on getting pregnant and have irregular menstrual periods, your OB/GYN will need this information to ensure that you have more success getting pregnant.
Those with endometriosis are also three times as likely to have an ectopic pregnancy.
There is currently no cure for endometriosis.
Women can still have healthy pregnancies by identifying symptoms early and taking steps to treat endometriosis before it leads to infertility.
Typically, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, can be used to help with pain from endometriosis.
These may relieve pelvic pain and menstrual cramping.
Endometriosis can be treated with hormone therapy or surgery where the tissue is removed.
In some severe cases, a gynecologist may recommend a hysterectomy.
Other treatments include gonadotropin-releasing hormone analogs, which reduce the amount of estrogen in the female body.
This treatment mimics menopause and has side effects such as hot flashes, vaginal dryness, irregular bleeding, mood swings, and fatigue.
Women who are experiencing endometriosis can also take oral contraceptives to help with the symptoms.
However, there are a few birth control pills that have this effect, while others will have none.
For example, progestins like Provera, Cycrin, and Amen are more potent than your typical birth control pill.
This is a good method for those who do not want to take NSAIDS.
You may need to talk to a specialist to treat endometriosis in the long term.
While women experience menopause typically between the ages of 45 and 55, women may develop menopause symptoms as early as age 40.
These women have early peri-menopause, which can cause missed periods.
Early peri-menopause initiates the eventual end of menstruation.
Some symptoms of early menopause include:
- Irregular periods
- Hot flashes
- Night Sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Mood swings
- Mental Fog
- Decreased sex drive
When to See a Doctor
If you ask your doctor, is it normal to miss a period, you will probably hear that most women skip multiple periods in their lifetimes.
You know that something is off, but are you sure that it is worth a doctor’s visit?
Any time that you feel your body is out of whack, you should talk with an experienced OB/GYN.
There are tests and sonograms that can detect these issues right away, which puts you on a path to a solution much more quickly.
There may be different reasons why you are experiencing an irregular menstrual cycle.
You may have an undiagnosed medical condition, or it could be time to change birth control.
You should let your doctor know all of the symptoms that you have experienced, and get an exam or blood tests really to understand what is going on inside of your body.
Missing a period can be the result of several factors, some of which may be temporary.
The real danger comes when you ignore prolonged issues with your menstrual cycle.
Women who haven’t had their period for three months, or who are experiencing prolonged bleeding for longer than 10 days, should seek help.
There could be an underlying medical condition or hormone imbalance that just needs a simple treatment to fix.
As you seek help with your menses, there are some things to keep in mind.
Ask for advice from a highly-reviewed OB/GYN.
You really want to choose an experienced OB/GYN when diagnosing complicated menstrual irregularities.
Your body is your own and has its own set of rules.
An irregular menstrual cycle may be common in your family.
If this is the case, ask your gynecologist for advice on how to get on a more regular track.
Track your symptoms to assist your doctor in diagnosing the issue during the exam.
Talk to other women in your family about their menses to see if there are genetic issues that could be causing complications.
Maintain healthy habits to establish a good baseline for your body.
Eating a healthy diet and maintaining low-stress levels is important to have a regular cycle.
Ask for specific tests to rule out thyroid disease, PCOS, and endometrial cancer.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions about different medical conditions related to skipped periods, especially if you feel you are experiencing symptoms related to that condition.
Doctors do know best, but they do not know your body as well as you do.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise to prevent excess weight gain.
One of the main factors for hormonal imbalances is increased estrogen from fat cells.
Women who are overweight may develop cysts leading to PCOS, and even cancer.
Talk through your insurance policy with your doctor to understand what medications and treatments will cost.
If you plan on having surgery, make sure that your insurance plan covers these costs so that you do not have to incur all the costs of your hospital bills.
If you are experiencing heavy blood loss, you should seek help immediately.
Women who pass large clots during their cycles or who have prolonged bleeding will likely have other health problems as a result, such as iron deficiency, prolonged fatigue, high blood pressure, and other complications.