Unless you're trying for a baby, getting your period regularly is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have to deal with cramps, bloating, and mood swings. On the other, yay, you’re not pregnant! Suddenly missing your period when babies aren’t on the agenda can be a real freak-out moment, but there are a few other factors that may be to blame. Here, ob-gyn Dr Alyssa Dweck, co-author of V is for Vagina, offers potential reasons you have a late period that have nothing to do with a bouncing bundle of joy.
Major Weight Loss or Excessive Exercise
“This is a reason I see not that infrequently in my office," says Dweck. "If your BMI rapidly dips below 18 or 19, you may start to miss periods." This isn’t strictly based on BMI, though. Serious conditions like anorexia and bulimia can cause a missed period, but so can training for a marathon or some other major event that requires you to exercise more than usual. "Nature has a way of protecting you from getting pregnant if your body is under such extreme stress. Your body prevents ovulation so you don’t have a lot of estrogen, don’t build a big uterine lining, and then don't get a period," says Dweck.
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A big scary event in your life can cause hypothalamic amenorrhea. "This particular area of the brain, the hypothalamus, is where a lot of the hormones for your period are regulated," says Dweck. "The hypothalamus is very affected by stress." So if you’re dealing with a big move, death in the family, huge breakup, or any other life event that's shaking you up, it could be the cause of your late period or missed period.
A Thyroid Irregularity
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. “If you’re dealing with any type of thyroid imbalance, whether it’s hypo- or hyperthyroidism, that can have implications for your period,” says Dweck. If you notice other symptoms of a thyroid disorder, check in with your doctor for an official diagnosis.
Polycystic Ovary Symptom
PCOS is a hormone imbalance that comes down to a lack of ovulation, so you have altered levels of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. "We’re seeing a lot more of this, although there are varying degrees. It can cause you to completely miss your period or just not menstruate regularly," says Dweck. Other PCOS symptoms include hair growth in places like the face and chest, difficulty losing weight, and potential fertility issues. Your doctor can help you come up with a treatment plan to manage the condition.
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Chronic Diseases Like Coeliac
"I know coeliac disease is on everyone's mind right now," says Dweck, referring to the disease that's characterized by gluten intolerance. "Any chronic disease that’s left untreated or undiagnosed is a stressor to your general system and can result in missed periods." Think coeliac may be the cause of your late period or missed period? Here’s how to figure out if you should get tested.
Your Birth Control
A missed period or late period can actually be a harmless byproduct of the measures you take to avoid pregnancy. "Some low-dose pills will cause a lack of menses that isn’t dangerous and is many times a welcome side effect," says Dweck. The same goes for methods like hormonal IUDs, implants, or shots. It can also take some time for your period to come back if you've stopped birth control, but it will usually resume without issue in a few months.
When women under 40 have hormones misfiring in a significant way, they can go through premature menopause, also known as premature ovarian failure. Along with a missed period, signs of it include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. "This isn’t very common, so you shouldn’t immediately worry about it," says Dweck. If your gyno rules out the many other potential causes and thinks this may be the culprit, she’ll clue you in.
Pretty enlightening—and fascinating—stuff.