Missed a period? The first thing to consider is pregnancy. If that is ruled out, other possible causes might be related to the use of certain birth control pills or entering menopause.
One of the side effects of a low-dose birth control pill is a light or nonexistent period. So, it may be time to consult your doctor about changing your birth control pills. Also, going through menopause can cause irregular periods before they end entirely.
Aside from those three possibilities, there are several health problems as well as lifestyle and environmental factors that can impact your periods.
If your periods have been regular but suddenly became irregular, take the issue seriously.
The abnormal absence of a period is called amenorrhea. Irregular periods can be defined as:
- Metrorrhagia– when irregular bleeding occurs between your expected periods.
- Oligomenorrhea– when menses occur at intervals of greater than 35 days.
- Polymenorrhea– when menses occur at intervals of 21 days or less.
Here are the 10 most common causes of missed and irregular periods.
1. High Stress Level
Your stress level can affect your menstrual cycle. If you’re experiencing extremely high stress, it can cause missed or irregular periods.
When your body is busy handling extreme stress, your brain shuts down the production of estrogen and other reproductive hormones needed for ovulation. This is done to prevent reproduction in a threatening environment as well as to conserve energy. As a consequence, you don’t get your period on time.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research reports that high stress levels were associated with only menstrual irregularities and not with duration, amount of flow or dysmenorrhea. This cross-sectional study was conducted on 100 female undergraduate students of a medical college.
Make sure to relax after work and make time to de-stress your mind and body. Try yoga, a hot bath or reading a book.
Although regular exercise is good for your overall health, excess exercise can be bad for females, especially those who are athletes. In fact, excess exercise is one of the key reasons behind disruption of the menstruation cycle.
Like other stress hormones, cortisol is released in response to any physical exertion, which in turn can deplete the body of energy needed to regulate sex hormones.
A 2008 study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences reports that exercise-induced amenorrhea can be an indicator of an energy drain, and the presence of the other components of the female athlete triad-bone density loss and eating disorders must be determined as well. The study emphasized that addressing skeletal problems related to nutritional and hormonal deficiencies in this population is very important.
Along with excess physical stress, several other factors contribute to the loss of periods in athletes. Such factors include low body fat and high energy expenditure.
Consult your doctor to determine whether your missed or irregular periods are a result of excessive exercise. You may need to work with an expert to help you plan a healthy exercise routine.
3. Low Body Fat
When your body mass index (BMI) falls below 18 or 19, you have little body fat. Low body fat can interrupt many hormonal functions in your body, potentially halting ovulation and affecting your menstrual cycle.
Body fat is important for creating the hormone estrogen, which when low can contribute to irregular periods and bone loss. In fact, those who have low body fat are at a higher risk of suffering from serious conditions such as anorexia and bulimia. People suffering from anorexia and bulimia often experience absent or missed periods.
Always remember that you need a certain amount of body fat to ovulate, so an extreme low-calorie and low-fat diet is a big no for females.
Experts believe that it is important to maintain a body fat percentage of 17 to 22 percent to maintain normal menstrual function. In fact, before beginning a weight-loss diet or starting a new training regimen, always consult your doctor.
4. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is a hormone imbalance in women that affects ovulation, which can cause irregular periods. Other signs of PCOS include acne, excessive hair growth and weight gain.
When suffering from PCOS, there can be high and sustained levels of sex hormones — including estrogen, progesterone and testosterone – as compared to the fluctuating levels seen in the normal menstrual cycle.
A 2014 study published in Human Reproduction reports that elevated androgen levels in adolescence are associated with PCOS and infertility in later life. In fact, this study emphasizes the importance of early identification of menstrual irregularity.
In addition to causing irregular periods and infertility, PCOS can increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
5. Thyroid Disorder
Any kind of thyroid gland malfunction, whether it is an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) or underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), can cause menstrual irregularities.
The thyroid gland produces hormones that maintain the body’s metabolism and impacts many sex hormones. Changes in estrogen and cortisol hormones can halt ovulation, which in turn affects the menstrual cycle.
A 1999 study done in Mexico and published in Ginecología y obstetricia de México indicates that primary hyperthyroidism is one of the leading causes behind missed periods.
A recent 2016 study published in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology of India reports that thyroid dysfunction is an important causative etiology of menstrual abnormalities. The study put emphasis on the assessment of thyroid function in women with menstrual disorders to avoid unnecessary interventions like curettage and hysterectomy.
6. Excessive Drinking
According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, drinking alcohol can cause irregular periods as well as infertility.
Excessive and even moderate drinking can affect the menstruation cycle. The toxins in alcohol can cause permanent tissue damage and disrupt the delicate hormonal balance critical for maintaining menstrual cycles.
In fact, alcohol intake is linked to an increased level of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Changes in these hormones affect ovulation, thus affecting when you menstruate and leading to irregular periods.
Not just irregular periods, alcohol toxins can make it difficult for a woman to conceive and even reduce the chances of having a healthy baby.
Whether it is men or women who are active or passive smokers, smoking is bad for health.
In fact, women who smoke are at a higher risk of suffering from irregular periods. Smoking may alter levels of estrogen, progesterone, testosterone and other hormones involved in the regularity of the menstrual cycle.
A 2000 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research reports that menstrual irregularity in bulimia nervosa is associated with depression, cigarette smoking and fluctuations in body weight that act as metabolic stresses that contribute to the perpetuation of menstrual disturbances.
At the same time, women who smoke experience more severe premenstrual symptoms and an increase in cramps lasting two or more days. Also, women who smoke excessively are less likely to conceive than nonsmokers.
8. Poor Diet
A proper diet is important for your health and can play an important role in maintaining a healthy menstrual cycle.
A poor diet low in nutrients, antioxidants and probiotic foods can affect adrenal glands and the thyroid, which in turn can cause significant hormonal changes in the body and absent or irregular periods.
Also, eating more than the recommended dietary intake of fiber can reduce estrogen levels and cause period problems.
Apart from a poor diet, binge eating is bad for a woman’s health.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research reports that women who reported lifetime binge eating were more likely to report either amenorrhea or oligomenorrhea than women who reported no binge eating. This could be due to metabolic and endocrinological factors. High BMI between 25 to 30 is also associated with infrequent menstrual cycles.
If you are having menstrual problems, make sure to eat the proper amount of food and make it the right kind. Eat high antioxidant foods that are nutrient-dense.
9. Exposure to Pesticides
Pesticides mimic hormones and when exposed to them, it can block the hormones in your body, making it difficult for your endocrine system to function properly.
A 2004 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology reports that pesticide use can affect the menstrual cycle. In fact, women who used probable hormonally active pesticides had a 60 to 100 percent increased odds of experiencing long cycles, missed periods and inter-menstrual bleeding as compared to women who never used pesticides.
A 2014 study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health reports that environmental mercury can precipitate pathophysiological changes along the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal and gonadal axis that may affect reproductive functions by altering the circulating of hormones.
Another 2014 study published in the Medical Journal of the Islamic Republic of Iran highlights the connection between menstrual disturbances and hormonal changes in female workers exposed to a mixture of organic solvents in a pharmaceutical company. The study puts emphasis on periodic evaluation of the reproductive system of women who work with chemicals in pharmaceutical companies.
10. Shift Work
If you work a shift job, chances are high that you may suffer from menstrual problems. The more your work schedule fluctuates, the more likely you are to experience such problems.
Shift work disrupts your body’s circadian rhythm, which controls a variety of biological functions including your menstrual cycle.
In a 2011 study published in Epidemiology, researchers analyzed more than 71,000 U.S. nurses and found that those working rotating shifts were more likely than other nurses to have irregular menstrual periods.
Another study published in BMC Women’s Health in 2016 reports that rotating shift work can increase the prevalence of menstrual cycle irregularity.
Women who work night shifts also can find it harder to conceive.