Amenorrhoea

Why your period may have stopped

Amenorrhoea is the medical term for an absence of periods in women. Adolescent girls are described as having amenorrhea if their periods haven't started by the time they are 16. In adult women, it is defined as having missed three or more periods. Pregnancy is the most common cause of this, but it can indicate an underlying health issue. 

 

Primary and secondary amenorrhoea

Primary amenorrhoea is where a girl would be expected to have started menstruating but has yet to have her first period. It is defined as primary amenorrhea if she has not started her period by the age of 16. In most cases, this is nothing to worry about, as girls begin to menstruate between 12 and 18. Secondary amenorrhoea occurs in women who usually menstruate, but their period has stopped for no reason. 

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What should I do if my periods stop? 

If you miss one or more period, the most likely explanation is pregnancy. You can purchase a pregnancy test from a pharmacy and some shops, or you can get one either at a sexual health clinic or GP. If you are not pregnant and don't know why your period has stopped, visit your GP for advice. 

What causes amenorrhoea?

There are several possible causes and factors which can contribute to amenorrhoea. 

Natural amenorrhea 

Some causes of amenorrhea are entirely natural: 

  • Pregnancy 
  • Breastfeeding 
  • Menopause 
  • Pre-puberty 

Contraception 

Some forms of hormonal contraception can stop your periods while you are using them. These mainly include progesterone based contraceptives such as: 

  • The mini-pill (progesterone only pill)
  • The IUS (hormonal coil) 
  • The hormonal implant 
  • Coming off the combined pill can also make your periods temporarily stop as your body adjusts. Your natural menstrual cycle can take several months to return. 

Medication 

Certain types of medication can cause your periods to stop. These include: 

  • Chemotherapy 
  • High blood pressure medication 
  • Antipsychotics 
  • Antidepressants 
  • Allergy treatments 

Hormones 

A hormonal imbalance can cause amenorrhoea. This is associated with the following conditions: 

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome 
  • Thyroid malfunction 
  • Premature menopause 
  • Pituitary tumour 

Lifestyle 

Some lifestyle factors can cause amenorrhoea or increase your risk of experiencing it: 

  • Stress- stress can disrupt the regular hormonal balance within the body, having an impact on your menstrual cycle 
  • Being underweight- if your body weight is very low, this puts you at risk of amenorrhoea. In particular, if you are suffering from an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia
  • Excessive exercise- if you are training professionally or undergoing an intense exercise regime this can disrupt your menstrual cycle 

Anatomy 

Specific problems within the womb can result in your periods stopping or being unable to start. These include: 

  • Scar tissue in the womb
  • Abnormal reproductive system where vital components are missing 
  • Abnormal structure of the vagina 

 

Family history 

Amenorrhoea can run in families so if women in your family have experienced this, it may make you more likely to. 

How is amenorrhoea diagnosed? 

Many different things can cause amenorrhoea, so an accurate diagnosis may take time. It is likely the first test your doctor will do is a pregnancy test to rule this out as the most likely cause of amenorrhoea. Aside from this, you may get a pelvic examination and various blood tests to check hormone levels and functioning. You will also be asked about your lifestyle, whether you are under stress and have your bodyweight assessed. 

Try and have as much information as possible, such as when your periods stopped, whether or not you are sexually active, and details of any major life changes or stressors you are dealing with. All this will help to determine the most likely cause of your amenorrhoea. 

How is amenorrhoea treated? 

Treatment for amenorrhoea will depend on the cause. For primary amenorrhoea, you will usually be advised to wait for your periods to start naturally. Everyone is different, and puberty will not always begin at the same time as everyone else. 

For secondary amenorrhoea, you may be given medication if you are found to have an underlying condition. If you are suffering from an eating disorder which is the cause of your periods stopping, then you may be referred for specialist treatment. Lifestyle changes may be advised if you are stressed or over-exercising. 

Sources: 

Mayo Clinic > Amenorrhoea
Web MD > What is Amenorrhoea?

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