Feeling a little off lately because of a missed period? If so you might be on the ultimate Google search to find out what is going on with your body. Missing periods without knowing why can make any woman a panicked, calendar-counting mess.
There can be many different reasons why you are missing periods, but the most common reason is pregnancy, which can either make you happy, scared, or a mixture of both. Having a mixture of both is not uncommon at all. Pregnancy is not the only reason for a missed period, however.
If you’ve missed more than three periods, you’re experiencing amenorrhea. No period for three months might sound amazing and somewhat of a well deserved break, but like it or not your period is a sign of a healthy, happy reproductive system.
Having your period means your body is functioning the way it should. When you don’t get your period for months at a time and you aren’t pregnant, you shouldn’t assume you’re Mother Nature’s favorite child. There’s likely an underlying reason it’s happening that needs to be addressed.
Amenorrhea can also interfere with your overall vaginal health. That’s why it’s so important to pinpoint the reason why you’re experiencing the loss of your Aunt Flo.
We’ve got your ultimate guide to all things amenorrhea, including what it is, what causes it, and what you can do about it.
What is Amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is the loss of your period, or the failure of your body to start having a period by puberty (roughly, age 15). This is a general, blanket-like term that means you aren’t having your period, but the reasons why you aren’t having it can be varied.
Typically, if you miss just one or two periods, it isn’t considered amenorrhea. If you miss more than two periods, then you are experiencing amenorrhea. If you’re wondering why your body actually has a period anyway, we’ve got you covered.
Each month your body has an opportunity to get pregnant. Whether you’re trying to conceive or not, your body pretends that you are, and prepares itself for the possibility that you’re going to grow a little human.
It happens like this:
- – Your ovaries begin preparing an egg to be released.
- – Your uterus begins lining itself with extra tissue, creating space to grow a baby.
- – Once the egg is released, the fallopian tubes help it get to the uterus.
- – If it is fertilized, the egg will attach to the thickened lining of the uterus and a pregnancy begins.
- – If the egg is not fertilized, it leaves the vagina during menstruation, along with the blood-rich tissues that had been lining your uterus.
- – The cycle repeats every 28 days (give or take) until menopause, when your body stops having a period for good.
There’s a lot that goes into making your period happen, so when you stop having a period for no apparent reason, it’s never a good sign.
Let’s find out why it can happen and what you can do about it.
(As a side note, amenorrhea officially turns into menopause once you’ve missed twelve consecutive periods. Some women may experience early menopause, but most will experience it after age 45.)
Causes of Amenorrhea
Missing or not starting your period can happen for many reasons, and some can be natural and normal. Pregnancy is a great example. Once you get pregnant, your body doesn’t need to repeat the monthly process of preparing to become pregnant, so you won’t have a period until after you are no longer pregnant.
You’ll have amenorrhea your entire pregnancy, and this is natural and normal. You’ll begin to have your period again after you are no longer pregnant, although the time it takes your body to begin menstruating again after your pregnancy varies from woman to woman and depends on factors like whether or not you are breastfeeding.
Additional causes of amenorrhea are:
- Late Bloomers. Most girls will get their periods around age 12, but it is possible for a girl to get her period as early as age 8. If a girl hasn’t started her period by age 15, she has amenorrhea. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s a hormonal issue, it just means she’s a late bloomer. It’s best to see her doctor and have an exam to make sure there’s no underlying issue preventing her from menstruating.
- Low body weight. Your period is controlled by certain hormones, so it’s important these hormones have what they need to function properly or they can’t make your period happen. One of the things your body needs to have a period is a percentage of body fat. Extremely low body weight can disrupt your hormones and cause them to stop functioning normally. Women who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia often experience amenorrhea.
- Excessive Exercise. If you workout seven days a week, don’t worry (and by the way, high five, go you), you’re still not likely to experience amenorrhea because of your workout routine. Excessive exercise, though, involves a taxing amount of physical work on the body; the type a professional athlete might experience. This, combined with the stress of the sport or exercise and a typically low percentage of fat can cause amenorrhea.
- Stress. Being stressed can cause the part of your brain that regulates hormone function to cease fire. It takes a lot of stress to make this happen; we’re not talking about stress over a big test or a presentation at work. This kind of stress is major, and can sometimes feel debilitating.
If you’re experiencing amenorrhea and you’ve ruled out pregnancy, it may be time to talk to your doctor.
Vaginal Infections and Amenorrhea
When you experience amenorrhea, you’re really experiencing a fluctuation in your hormone production. Hormones are super important in maintaining vaginal health, too.
Your vagina is a little microbiome of healthy bacteria; countless numbers of little organisms live in your vagina and help keep it functioning healthfully. The bacteria in your vagina also keep your vagina’s pH level at a normal level. When the bacteria levels change, the pH levels change, and you could get an infection.
Having a vaginal infection is no fun. Even if you don’t have an infection, a pH level that is too alkaline can cause your vagina to have a bad odor. You can even experience this type of fluctuation before and/or after your period. That’s why your vagina’s pH level is so important.
Symptoms of vaginal pH imbalance can include (but definitely aren’t limited to):
- Vaginal and vulvar itching and burning. You may experience this feeling inside your vagina, around the opening, and on your labia.
- Discharge. The discharge you experience can vary depending on whether or not you have an infection, and what kind of infection you have. While some monthly discharge is normal, discharge that has a foul odor, is grey, yellow, or green, or thick and chunky like cottage cheese may indicate an infection.
- Odor. When your pH balance is out of whack, it can smell bad. Like really bad. You should know it’s totally normal to have this odor when your pH is off-kilter. It has nothing to do with cleanliness and doesn’t mean you need to waste money on products like douches. You can use products like VeeGentle to gently clean your lady bits and help with odor if you’re feeling extra worried about how you smell.
- Pain during sex and/or while peeing. You may experience pain during sex or peeing when you have a vaginal infection. You may also notice a stronger odor after sex if you have certain infections like bacterial vaginosis (BV). Sex itself can affect your vaginal pH too, so don’t be surprised if you need a little extra care down there after getting down and dirty.
I Still Have Questions
Still have questions? No worries. It’s normal to wonder what’s causing your amenorrhea. Articles like the one you just read can help you figure out what’s going on. It’s not a complete substitute for medical advice from a doctor but it can still be helpful.
Amenorrhea can be a natural occurrence for some women, but more often than not it indicates a hormonal fluctuation that could need attention. Don’t be afraid to do some research and talk to your doctor about your concerns. You’ll be glad to have answers.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.