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Missed Period and Pregnancy

If you’re trying to get pregnant, a missed period is a good sign. Over-the-counter pregnancy tests or tests administered by a doctor can help you determine whether or not you’re pregnant. But if you’re not trying to get pregnant, a missed period can cause fear and panic, especially when you consider the financial and emotional implications. Either way, it’s important to remember that there are reasons other than pregnancy why a woman can miss her period.

General Irregularity

Many women have irregular cycles, a condition known as oligoovulation. This can be a frustrating condition if you are trying to conceive (and it can cause the occasional bad scare if you are not), but it is not a dangerous condition that necessarily requires treatment. Birth control can often help women with oligoovulation to regulate their cycles, thereby making life somewhat more predictable.

If you are attempting to conceive a child, however, you should see your OBGYN to determine whether you are suffering from anovulation, a condition in which the body does not release an egg during the menstrual cycle. Women who experience anovulatory menstrual cycles tend to have unpredictable periods, and menstrual bleeding in such cases does not necessarily mean that ovulation is occurring. If you have missed a period, or if you have suddenly begun to develop infrequent or irregular periods, you should make an appointment to see your doctor in order to make sure that you are not suffering from a more serious underlying condition.

Stress

Whether we realize we’re stressing or not, stress can cause changes within our bodies. Stress can cause a decrease in the hormone GnRH, which in turn can delay your monthly menstrual cycle.

Altered Sleep Patterns

Changes in our schedules will also throw off our body’s natural time clock. A good example is changing work shifts—switching from a morning shift to nighttime hours, for example. When you drastically alter your sleep patterns, your body becomes confused, which throws everything off—including your menstrual cycle. Excessive exercise, especially in the context of sudden adoption of a difficult regimen, can also cause missed or late periods.

Illnesses

Any serious illness—even a case of the flu—can cause your period to be late or even skip a month. Depending on how long the illness lasts—days, weeks, or months—this can significantly throw off your body’s schedule. Also, when we become ill, most of us begin taking medications. This too can contribute to a missed period.

Weight Gain or Loss

Being overweight or underweight can cause a missed period. Gaining weight can shift your hormonal cycles or worse, stop them. Most women will return to their normal cycles after returning to their normal weight. As noted above, excessive exercise can also throw off the cycle, and professional athletes or women who suddenly begin to spend a lot of time at the gym sometimes see a change in their cycles, which can cause a missed period. In some cases, an underactive thyroid (i.e., hypothyroidism) can case hormonal irregularities that can result in a missed period, or even in amenorrhea, which is, in layman’s terms, the complete cessation of the menstrual cycle in a woman who is not pregnant.

Cycle Miscalculation

Although most of us know our bodies and know our cycles, anyone can make a mistake, and miscalculating our periods can cause us to be overcome with false hope if we are trying to conceive—or cause us to panic over the prospect of an unwanted pregnancy. The menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman. Learning more about ovulation can help you get back on track and better calculate the arrival of your periods.

Menopause

Finally menopause or perimenopause can cause you to stop having your monthly periods. Perimenopause is the time leading up to your last menstrual period, when your body is transitioning from the reproductive to the non-reproductive stage. Periods may become lighter, heavier, or less frequent. You are still fertile in this stage, so birth control is still important if you are sexually active and don’t wish to conceive.

Your periods are apt to become irregular at this stage of your life, and they may stop and then resume after a few months. During this time you will experience hormone fluctuations, which will cause a number of symptoms, including:

  • Irregular periods
  • Hot flashes
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Urinary problems
  • Increase or decrease in libido
  • Absent-mindedness

Every woman’s experience with menopause is different, so you may experience only a few of these symptoms, or you may be afflicted with all of them. You are considered to be going through perimenopause until it has been a year since you had your last period. When this has happened, you are done with perimenopause, and have entered the menopausal stage of life. After the age of 40 irregular bleeding can be a sign of something concerning like precancer or cancer. Make sure you talk to your doctor if your periods are irregular or heavy.

If you are under the age of 40 it is unlikely that you are experiencing perimenopause, but early menopause is still an unfortunate possibility. This can be a hereditary condition, or in some cases it can be caused by certain medical treatments, such as pelvic radiation or chemotherapy treatment for cancer. While these treatments may be necessary to save your life, they can sometimes cause damage to the ovaries, bringing on early menopause.

Medical References:

    National Institute of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1518360/ Kippley, John; Sheila Kippley (1996). The Art of Natural Family Planning (4th ed.). Cincinnati, OH: The Couple to Couple League. p. 92 John Hopkins Medicine/John Hopkins Hospital http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/adult/gynecological_health/amenorrhea_85,P00546/ http://www.womenshealth.gov http://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/menopause-basics/index.html http://www.womenshealth.gov/menopause/early-premature-menopause/index.html
[Page updated March 2016]