Periods are often very annoying, because of the cramping, bloating, and PMS symptoms they cause. But even though that period can sometimes be taxing, if you are getting your period every month it is a good indicator that your reproductive system is working properly. If you haven't gotten your period lately, you may be wondering what the problem is. If you have been missing out on your period for a while, though, you may be experiencing amenorrhea, a menstrual cycle disorder. It is important to be treated for amenorrhea, because it can cause problems with fertility as well as signal underlying health issues.
What is Amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is a menstrual cycle disorder characterized by the absence of any menstrual periods. Amenorrhea is a fairly common disorder, affecting between 2% and 5% of women in North America. It occurs naturally in women who are pregnant or who are going through menopause. It can be particularly worrisome in other women, though, because it can indicate health complications.
Most women get their periods every 28 days or so. Of course, there will be some fluctuation in your monthly cycles, especially if you have just begun to menstruate. For instance, some women only get their periods every 35 days or so. Your period is caused by the release of a variety of hormones in your body, including estrogen and progesterone. Just the right levels of hormones are needed to stimulate your body to produce your period. Sometimes, women don't have enough hormones to produce a period, and as a result, develop amenorrhea.
Types of Amenorrhea
Amenorrhea is classified into two types:
Primary Amenorrhea: Primary amenorrhea occurs when a girl hasn't gotten her period by age 16. On average, most girls hit puberty around age 11 or 12. This causes an increase in hormones, stimulating your body to produce a period. Girls with primary amenorrhea don't have enough of these hormones in their bodies to produce a period. Primary amenorrhea is common among girls who are very thin or highly athletic, because they do not have enough fat to help produce sex hormones.
Secondary Amenorrhea: Unlike primary amenorrhea, women with secondary amenorrhea at one point experienced normal periods. Then, for some reason, their periods stopped. In order to have secondary amenorrhea, your periods must have stopped for at least three months. It is usually the result of reproductive problems or hormonal complications.
Causes of Amenorrhea
Your menstrual cycle is actually quite responsive to environmental stressors. Little things like nutrition and stress can actually wreak havoc on your period. If you have amenorrhea, it is likely that something has caused your hormone levels to fall out of sync. As a result, your body is no longer producing a period. Factors that can contribute to hormonal problems include:
- improper nutrition
- strenuous exercise
- rapid weight loss or gain
- disordered eating, anorexia, or bulimia
- problems with your pituitary gland, hypothalamus, or ovaries
The most obvious sign of amenorrhea is the absence of your monthly period, but sometimes amenorrhea is also accompanied by other, less-obvious symptoms. These include:
- change in sexual drive
- secretions from the breasts
- reduction in size of breasts
- deeper voice
- the appearance of facial hair
If you notice any of these symptoms of amenorrhea, it is important that you contact your health care provider for a check up. Your health care provider will be able to reverse these symptoms and hopefully, restore your period.
Complications of Amenorrhea
Amenorrhea isn't something you want to mess around with. If you have noticed that your periods have stopped it is important to find out why, so that you can try to restore them. Amenorrhea is often associated with infertility, and can cause long-term problems when it comes to conception. Women who have amenorrhea don't always produce mature, healthy eggs for fertilization, making it difficult for them to become pregnant. Amenorrhea can indicate reproductive health problems including:
- polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), in which tiny cysts form over the ovaries
- uterine fibroids, a condition where wart-like growths form in the uterine cavity
- hirsutism whereby the pituitary gland produces too much of one hormone
There are effective treatments for amenorrhea, which should help to restore your periods and preserve your fertility. However, treatment varies depending upon the causes of your amenorrhea. Treatment options include:
- Hormonal supplements, like the birth control pill or patch, or hormone replacement therapy. These supplements aid in regulating your hormones, helping to trigger regular menstrual periods.
- Dietary changes, including an increase in fat and calories in order to stimulate estrogen production.
- Counseling for eating disorders.
- Using stress reduction techniques to help regulate your period.
- Surgery to remove cysts or fibroids