Amenorrhea: When To Worry About Missed Periods

What Is Amenorrhea?

missed periods

Amenorrhea refers to the absence of menstrual periods that does not occur due to pregnancy. When a woman misses her period for at least 3 consecutive months and she is not pregnant, it is considered amenorrhea. Amenorrhea can also refer to a young woman who has yet to begin her menstrual cycle by the age of 16.

Causes

Amenorrhea can occur entirely on its own, but is usually caused by an underlying condition. Conditions that can cause amenorrhea include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Eating disorders
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Ovarian cysts
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Stress
  • Depression
  • Certain prescription medications
  • Sudden weight gain/loss
  • Hormone imbalance
  • Excessive exercising
  • Chronic illness
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • Brain cancer

missed periods

Types

Primary Amenorrhea

Primary amenorrhea refers to a woman not getting her first period by the age of 16. Puberty typically begins anywhere from the age of 11 to 15 and the menstrual cycle should start at any point during these years. If it does not occur by the age of 16, it is primary amenorrhea.

Secondary Amenorrhea

Secondary amenorrhea refers to a woman who has had a regular menstrual cycle and then abruptly starts missing her period. It is not considered amenorrhea until at least 3 months have gone by without a period.

Symptoms

  • Absence of periods for at least 3 consecutive months
  • Not getting a period by the age of 16

Diagnosis

missed periods

CT imaging can reveal ovarian cysts, one of the leading causes of amenorrhea.

Amenorrhea can be diagnosed based solely on report of the patient. If your doctor is concerned about what is causing your amenorrhea, they may order a serious of diagnostic tests to rule out anything serious. This includes blood panels to check thyroid function and vitamin deficiencies. They may also order diagnostic imaging to check for issues with the ovaries and reproductive system in general, such as a pelvic ultrasound or CT (computed tomography) scan. You may need to see a gynecologist to have an internal pelvic exam to see if there are any growths or cysts on the ovaries.

Treatment

The most common treatment for amenorrhea is birth control pills. Birth control pills contain estrogen and progestin, which help to regulate the menstrual cycle. Amenorrhea that is caused by nutrient deficiencies can be resolved by eating a balanced diet. If your amenorrhea is caused by an underlying condition such as a thyroid disorder, treating the condition will usually regulate the menstrual cycle.

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