Oligomenorrhea - Irregular Periods

Sometimes a woman's menstrual cycle goes a bit wonky, and most of the time that isn't anything to be alarmed about. Stress, illness, and perimenopause can all affect menses. Irregular periods, affect about 30% of women during the reproductive years.

Defining Oligomenorrhea

Medical dictionaries define oligomenorrhea as infrequent or very light menstruation. However, physicians generally narrow the definition and restrict the diagnosis of oligomenorrhea to women who had regular periods established prior to the irregularities. Once menstrual periods are established, then oligomenorrhea can be properly diagnosed. In the United States, 97.5% of women have begun normal menstrual cycles by the age of 16. Normal is variable, though. The general thought is that menstruation cycles every 28 days. However, some women are regular at 24 days and others at 32 days. Each woman is different and her menstrual cycle is peculiar to her. Regularity can be established with the use of a calendar, charting the first day of menstruation every month. By charting the days it is possible to determine the length of the cycle. Although many women menstruate for five days, for some three days is normal and for others it is seven days. Some women menstruate (with ovulation occurring) on a regular schedule once every two months. For them it is completely normal and nothing to worry about.

Irregular Periods Aren't Uncommon

Irregular periods are not uncommon for women to experience at the beginning and end of their reproductive lives. This usually happens as a result of sex hormones released by the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, and the ovaries, being imperfectly coordinated. In order for menstruation to occur, these organs must signal each other. If the signals are interrupted, irregularities occur. Pregnancy causes new levels of hormones to be excreted and menses stops. Poor diet, being overtired, stress, extreme exercising and hormonal birth control pills can all affect the regularity of menstruation. Usually the irregularity goes away when adjustments to lifestyle (or the birth of the baby) take place.

The symptoms of oligomenorrhea include menstrual periods at more than 35 days; irregular periods with unpredictable flow; possible problems conceiving a pregnancy. Women with anorexia nervosa as well as dancers, actresses, models, and athletes can experience oligomenorrhea as a result of a serious drop in the ratio of body fat to weight. Oligomenorrhea is preventable in cases of low body fat ratio. Adequate nutrition and reducing the intensity of training schedules usually solves the problem. However, when it is caused by hormonal factors, it is not preventable, but it is often treatable.

When the Cause is Hormonal

One condition that is a hormonal cause of oligomenorrhea is polycystic ovarian syndrome or PCOS. This condition, which affects about 10% of women, is typified by the ovaries being filled with little cysts. Women with PCOS experience menstrual irregularities that go from amenorrhea (no periods at all) to very heavy periods that are irregular. The probable cause is inappropriate levels of both female and male hormones in the body. Male hormones are produced in small quantities by all women, but women with PCOS have higher levels of androgens (male hormones) than women without the condition. Additionally, research in Britain in 2003 revealed fundamental differences between the development of egg follicles in normal ovaries as compared to follicle development in ovaries of women with PCOS.

Another possible cause for oligomenorrhea is inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Weight loss, abdominal pain, diarrhea and irregular periods are all symptoms of this difficult problem. STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) can also cause irregular periods. If a woman is experiencing symptoms of irregularity along with any symptoms of pain or weight loss, it is advisable she contact her health care provided to determine the cause.


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