When it comes to menstruation, one missed period and every woman’s mind hops to the same conclusion: Am I pregnant? I’m probably pregnant. But there are a number of reasons beyond pregnancy why you could be skipping a cycle or two.
Stress. Stress stress stress. Who has not experienced some sort of stress in their life? We know that stress can affect us in many ways (we are mentally worn down, we are tired, we can eat too much – or not enough, our immune systems lower…) but stress can also affect our periods. As your stress level climbs higher and higher, your reproductive system can feel the toll – in fact, the stress causing your period to shut itself down and stop even has a medical name: secondary amenorrhea.
Since stress can suppress the hypothalamus (aka the pituitary gland’s controller), which itself controls the adrenal and thyroid glands that regulate and manage hormones. Stress imbalances can mess up estrogen production, which then, of course, affects your period and ovulation.
Hypothyroidism (yeah, it’s a big word) is basically when you have an underactive thyroid while hyperthyroidism means you have an overactive thyroid. Why do these conditions matter?
Because, again, they control the thyroid hormone which can affect your period frequency or infrequency. The thyroid hormone not only controls the body’s metabolism, but it can play a part in determining if your period even happens.
UNDER EATING & OVER EXERCISING
Severe eating disorders, specifically anorexia, have an effect on your period. If your body is not taking in enough calories and nutrients, your body fat percentage will drop too low and actually cause your period to stop, as your body is too unhealthy for ovulation.
In that same vein, excessively exercising can lead to too low a body fat percentage and therefore missed periods. This condition is known in medical circles as exercise-associated amenorrhea.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) stems from yet another hormonal imbalance that can affect a body’s overall health as well as lead to ovarian cysts. These cysts, while benign, go hand in hand with having enlarged ovaries and causing your periods to stop short.
If you are currently breastfeeding your child (obviously following being pregnant) but your period still has not returned, it could be that your body is producing too much prolactin, a hormone that a woman’s body typically produces during breastfeeding, and one that has the ability to impact menstruation.
If you are not breastfeeding, prolactin can still rear its head. So if you are missing a period and notice a milky discharge from your nipples, it may be a sign your body is ramping up prolactin for some reason. Talk to your doctor if this is the case, as they can treat the production problem with medication.
While there are many reasons why your period could be irregular or simply not happening (aside from pregnancy), it is always a good idea to check in with your doctor to make sure the correct cause is being diagnosed.