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Missed periods

Missed a period? It’s easy to assume you’re pregnant or that there’s a serious medical problem, but more often than not it’s nothing to worry about. Here’s why.

Worried girl

Don't panic: it doesn't automatically mean you're pregnant.

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I could be pregnant, right?

Pregnancy is the most common cause of missed periods (medically known as secondary amenorrhea), but unless you’ve had unprotected sex there are plenty of other explanations for your period’s no-show.

What do I do if I’ve missed my period?

First of all, don’t panic (unless you’ve had unprotected sex). Even if you’re pregnant there are options, and if you’re not it may be nothing to worry about. It’s important to stay positive because missing your period is mostly a symptom of other things, which can usually be sorted. So if you’ve not had a period for two months make an appointment with your GP, and remember that ongoing stress often causes your period to stop for six months or more.

If your periods are irregular try to keep a record of your cycle, or at least try to remember the last one you had. It’s also worth finding out whether there’s a history of any similar problems in your family.

When will my periods come back?

That depends on the reason why they stopped. If you’ve just had a baby they normally return once you finish breastfeeding. If your lifestyle made them stop it can take a few months. However, simply cutting cut out some of the bad stuff (excess alcohol, smoking and drugs) and increasing the good stuff (healthy food and exercise) can speed things up.

And think about how stressful your life is. Try and balance work with play and get enough rest.

So why have I missed my period?

To have a period, the uterus, cervix, vagina and ovaries, as well as the pituitary gland and hypothalamus (the hormone control centre located in the brain), must be working normally.

There are lots of reasons for these to not be functioning as they usually do. Most common reasons are:

  • Recently starting your period. For about a year after your first period it’s not uncommon for your cycle to be very erratic or even to miss your period for several months.
  • Major changes in your life, like a new job, massive workload, bereavement can create enough stress to make you to miss your period.
  • Rapid weight gain or loss, in particular missed periods associated with malnutrition or low body fat caused by eating disorders.
  • Too much exercise, often connected with heavy dieting, can also stop your periods.

In some cases heavy smoking can also be the cause of missed periods.

I stopped taking the pill and haven’t had a period since

It may take a while for your periods to get back to normal after you stop taking the pill – anything between three months and a year is considered normal. So try not to worry.

Can depression affect my periods?

It can, especially if your depression is caused by stress. Focusing on eating well and exercising can help, but speak to your doctor if you’ve missed several months.

I’ve been seriously ill and my periods stopped

Any illness affecting your reproductive organs or their hormones, such as a tumour in the brain as well as any serious illness can affect your periods. Particular ovary conditions include ovary damage, autoimmune ovary disorder and Turner’s Syndrome.

In addition to the actual illness, some treatments also cause missed periods, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy and some medications. You should check with your GP if you’re unsure about any of your medication.

More serious problems associated with missed periods

Aside from the usual suspects of stress, medication and pregnancy there are more serious reasons for missed periods, such as:

  • STIs Chlamydia is particularly dangerous as it often shows no symptoms and can cause infertility if left untreated.
  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which causes eggs in the ovaries to develop into cysts. If they remain untreated they can build up and enlarge, causing a variety of problems ranging from acne and excess hair growth, to diabetes, infertility, heart disease and cancer.
  • Ectopic pregnancy – when the pregnancy develops outside the womb, for example in the fallopian tube or the cervix. If it goes unnoticed surgery may be required, which can cause infertility.
  • Anovulation – when the egg doesn’t develop and get released properly. There are many reasons for this. Premature ovarian failure (also called premature menopause) is one example. (One in 1000 15–29 year-olds and one in 100 30–39 year-olds suffer from premature ovarian failure.)
  • Hormonal conditions: For example hormonal or masculinisation disorders.

Help, I’ve never had a period

If you haven’t had a period by the age of 16 you may have primary amenorrhea ­­– a rare condition that affects one in 300 girls and women. In many cases it’s nothing to worry about as it’s often down to the late onset of puberty. However, if they haven’t turned up by the age of 17 it may be caused by an underlying medical problem, such as abnormalities in the cervix, uterus or vagina.

Make an appointment to see your GP if you’re worried. Again, try not to panic as there are treatable explanations for its absence.

Photo of worried girl by Shutterstock

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Updated on 25-Mar-2014

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