Most women would happily abandon their monthly period if given the option. Seriously—think of all the other things you could buy with the money you’re currently throwing away on tampons. #thestruggleisreal
But if your monthly unwanted visitor suddenly disappears or starts coming late or erratically (and, well, you know you haven’t had sex recently), don’t party just yet. It’s true that your period isn’t necessary for good health, and you can even safely skip your period using birth control. However, a mysteriously absent flow could be a sign of a problem.
The medical term for an absent period for at least three consecutive months is secondary amenorrhea, according to the National Institutes of Health. It’s not exactly a disease in itself, but a symptom of another health problem.
First, it helps to understand why menstruation is so easily altered. During puberty, your hypothalamus (in the brain) and pituitary gland begin producing and regulating hormones that trigger the onset of ovulation and menstruation. Regular ovulation requires a careful balance of these hormones, such as progesterone and testosterone, to name a couple. These glands can be temperamental, and an imbalance of hormones can lead to no ovulation (and, thus, no period).
Not all hormonal changes are necessarily a bad thing (exhibit A: pregnancy). Still, it’s good to rule out possible conditions that might be causing secondary amenorrhea. These are some reasons your period might be missing.
You’re preggo. Yeah, it’s the obvious answer. Not only does pregnancy seriously alter your hormones, but you need the uterine lining for your growing baby. (After all, your period is literally just the unused lining each month you don’t get pregnant.)
You have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). Women with PCOS may have an excess of the “male hormones” called androgens, which includes testosterone. While all women have androgen hormones, PCOS may overproduce androgens and lead to typically male features, such as facial hair, a lower voice, and—yep—no period. Here are other symptoms of PCOS to look for.
You’re under severe stress or anxiety. As previously mentioned, your hormones can be fussy, and chronic stress can mess with ovulation. Because of stress, your body may be allocating your energy toward survival instead of reproduction; the increase of cortisol (the stress hormone) may suppress your hypothalamic and pituitary functions, according to a 2015 study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The good news: Lowering your stress should bring back regular menstruation. Check out these stress-reducing techniques to relax your mind.
You are underweight or overweight. Like stress, extreme weight loss causes your body to nix some less important functions and put its resources toward the basics for survival. On the other hand, high body weight can throw your hormones out of whack and lead to a missing period. In some cases—but not all—this is linked to PCOS.
You’re taking medications for birth control, antidepressants, or blood pressure. Birth control is a pretty simple explanation, since hormonal contraceptives are designed to mimic the hormonal state of pregnancy. (Learn more about how the Pill works, check out how the patch works, and find out more how the IUD works here.) Other medications can also impact the hypothalamus and alter the amount of hormone production necessary for ovulation.
You’re hitting the gym too hard. This can be a one-two punch: Not only may too-vigorous workouts cause physical stress to the body, but you might also be losing body fat quickly. Both of those can freak out the hypothalamus and pituitary gland and lead to hormonal imbalance.
You have an underactive or overactive thyroid. Since the thyroid is involved in hormone regulation, an out-of-whack thyroid can steal your monthly period. Learn more about what the thyroid gland does here.
You have tumors on the pituitary gland, ovaries, or uterus. Okay, don’t panic: These are relatively rare. The majority of ovarian tumors are actually benign, or noncancerous, according to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition. Still, this potential issue highlights the importance of consulting with your doc if your period goes missing.
Oh, and once your not-so-beloved period makes a reappearance, you might need to know these proven tips to soothe menstrual cramps. Good luck out there, friends.