You’ve got your tampons at the ready in your bathroom, your favorite frozen treat is stocked up in the freezer, and your heating pad is by your bedside. According to your period tracker, it’s go time, but where the heck is your period?
Our body can do many weird, wonderful, and wacky things, one of which is skipping a menstrual period. Amenorrhea, medical speak for an irregular period, is meant to give our body a break in one way or another. But it can be frustrating and even a little frightening to not know why Mother Nature decided to skip out on our regularly scheduled programming.
To help ease the stress we decided to spread a little knowledge on period irregularity. Here are some of the more common causes that can mess with your cycle and what you can do to stay regular.
In times of great emotional stress–think job loss, a bad break up, death in the family–your hormones will sometimes do you a solid by taking ovulation off the table. The body’s logic? You are way too stressed to bring up a healthy baby right now. This little uterine breather is called secondary amenorrhea, and experts say it’s a leftover bit of evolutionary response to unsafe and high-stress environments.
The biggest and best thing you can do is to be kind to yourself right now, and do what you can to reduce stress. Exercise, yoga, or mediation are all good options, as well as seeing a therapist to help you get through a tough time. If your period is paused for more than a month, it’s time to check in with your doctor to make sure there’s nothing else going on.
Too Much Exercise
Most folks have heard of marathoners losing their periods during intense training, but it’s actually a pretty common occurrence for most extreme athletes. Dr. Veronica Learner, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center, explains it’s the body’s response to all that stress. Due to the intense workout and strict diet, the body presumes you’re too stressed to have a baby, so it shuts down those hormones in order for your system to focus on performing to pique fitness.
If you’re intentionally training (and not trying for a baby), this may not be terrible news. But you should still take some precautions if you do experience exercise amenorrhea. VeryWell advises making sure you’re getting plenty of protein and iron to keep you strong and seek out foods rich in zinc, vitamin B6, and magnesium for their estrogen-boosting properties. Last, but not least, if you’ve missed more than one period, check in with your doctor to make sure your diet is balanced and you are training in a healthy way.
Irregular Sleep Habits
Multiple studies have shown that when you mess with your circadian rhythm, you run the risk of messing with your menstrual cycle, too. This is because sleep has a huge effect on your endocrine system. Irregular sleep patterns alter your melatonin levels, and this ripples to your menstrual cycle. This is particularly true for those working evening shifts or mixed shift schedules.
The best way to avoid all this is to keep to a regular sleep schedule as often as possible. If you work evenings or mixed shifts, be sure to invest in some good blackout curtains and earplugs so you can get your proper ZZZs during the day.
Being Too Under or Overweight
If your BMI is lower than 18, your hormone system may go into a stress mode. Usually caused by a combination of under eating and extreme exercise, your body’s stress mode causes your estrogen levels to dip, and in extreme cases, skip out on ovulation altogether. Conversely, if your BMI is more than 35, the body has a habit of shutting down the period cycle. In this case, excess adipose (fatty) tissue leads to an overproduction of estrogen, which again, can cause your cycle to skip out on you. Any dramatic shifts in weight in a short amount of time can also fiddle with your regularity.
Best way to avoid all this? Do your best to keep at a healthy weight. So much easier said than done, right? Don’t be afraid to reach out to your doctor, especially if you’re struggling on your own. Your doctor can advise on what is a healthy weight for your body type, and they can even connect you to nutritionists, therapists, and other related specialists for extra support.
There are a whole host of medical conditions that can affect your period. According to Health, conditions like diabetes, cancer, uterine fibroids, pituitary adenomas, and Von Willebrand disease can all affect your cycle in way or another. In general, if it affects your endocrine system, it can also affect your cycle’s regularity. That said, there are a few common culprits: underactive or overactive thyroids mess with your endocrine system, leading to amenorrhea. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) causes your system to produce too much testosterone and throw off ovulation.
With proper medication management of these conditions, your cycle should settle into a new normal. If things haven’t become predictable in a few months time, be sure to check in with your doctor to discuss your ongoing symptoms.
We know starting new hormonal birth control or taking emergency contraception will affect your cycle, but there are a few more surprises in your medicine cabinet. Antidepressants, says Shape, elevate the production of a hormone called prolactin, which is essential to regulating your period. Taking aspirin regularly can elongate your periods, while anti-inflammatory NSAIDS can make your period lighter. Even epilepsy medications can cause you to miss a period.
When you start a new medication, be sure to keep notes of any period irregularities as well as symptoms. It can take a few months for your body to adjust to antidepressants, for example, so a little wonkiness isn’t too concerning. That said, it doesn’t hurt to clue in your prescribing doctor on your new period symptoms, just in case.