When I was 25, I skipped my period. The next month I skipped my period again. This happened completely out of the blue. Every month, I kept assuming it would just come back — and every month, it didn’t. At first it was a bit nerve wracking, but since I wasn’t pregnant, and I had no other negative health symptoms, I began to see it as a God-send. But, I always wondered to myself, is it normal to skip a period?
I didn’t want kids at the time, and I hadn’t seriously planned on having them in the future. My body, sleep pattern, skin, energy — everything else was fine. So the fact that I didn’t have to deal with cramps, mood swings, bloating, and the oh-so-wonderful monthly flow, was something I learned to cherish, but was also a cause for concern.
Is it normal to skip a period?
The technical term for when you skip your period is amenorrhea. Common causes are pregnancy and menopause, but these are much easier to diagnose as the issue. For most women who lose their periods, the reason can be a mystery leaving them wondering is it normal to skip a period? Some women experience symptoms like headaches, depression, abdominal pain and hair growth, while others have no symptoms at all. And I will admit that when you have no other symptoms it can be an easy problem to ignore.
As the years went by with no period in sight, I started searching for the root of the problem. I took some blood tests, had two ultra sounds, visited a specialist, and talked to multiple gynecologists throughout the years. I was given many reasons why you could lose your period, although none of these reasons were why I was losing my period. I also experienced a lot of nonchalance and lack of knowledge from doctors when asking is it normal to skip a period? What I learned is that there are many reasons that a young woman can stop getting her period, and that sometimes finding answers can be difficult.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
One of the first things I always heard from doctors was that my period-loss could be due to polycystic ovary syndrome, or POS. POS is a hormonal imbalance that effects nearly 10 percent of young women. Some cases of POS involve high levels of androgen (male hormones) while others can involve high levels of insulin. Many cases of POS result in cyst-development on the ovaries. The end result of POS is that the ovaries either don’t produce or release eggs, which causes missed periods and infertility.
Many women with POS may notice facial hair, acne or weight gain. Others may notice darkening skin and baldness. Diabetes is often linked to POS, as is high cholesterol and high blood pressure. While POS isn’t always easy to diagnose, blood tests, physical exams and an ultrasound can usually prove with high certainty that POS is the cause of missed or irregular periods.
The thyroid is a gland that secrets vital hormones that regulate energy and keep all of your organs functioning. Basically, it’s really important. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) can both be the cause of missed or irregular periods, along with dozens of other issues including anxiety, depression, insomnia, weight gain or loss, constipation and more.
The thyroid can effect menstruation in tons of different ways, from dysfunctional insulin regulation that causes Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, to progesterone deficiency which can cause ovulation-failure. If your doctor suspects that your thyroid may be the underlying cause of your missed period, they may refer you to an endocrinologist, a specialist who can run more advanced tests.
Medicines that affect your hormone balance, including thyroid medications and of course, birth control, can also affect your period. Typically, women who take birth control such as oral contraceptives, injections or IUD implants will experience some effect to their menstrual cycle. Most commonly the effect is mild, and many women just experience lighter periods. Doctors usually advise this as a safe side effect, and if a women wishes to become pregnant, she need only stop taking a contraceptive.
Being Underweight or Overexercising
In the search to find the cause of my own amenorrhea, it was suggested to me by many doctors to “gain weight”. I definitely wasn’t malnourished or anorexic, but I maintained a very healthy—albeit very restrictive— diet and I exercised a lot. I am 5’2 and spent the majority of my twenties weighing 100 pounds, when I was naturally built to weigh closer to 115. One doctor told me that when the body doesn’t have enough energy to function, the reproductive functions are the first to go.
Women who are underweight, have low body fat, or overexercise can experience amenorrhea, although the direct relationship isn’t always clear. Typically, hormone dysfunction, leptin deficiency or low bone density can be related to the loss of a period.
For many years, my desire to get my period again wasn’t as strong as my desire to be thin. Eventually, however, at about 29 years old I started heavy weight training and I physically couldn’t under-eat anymore — I was HUNGRY! I increased my calories, put on about 15 pounds of muscle and voila, my period returned. It was a bit of a shock to get it again, and although it’s not something I’m particularly thrilled about (I mean, there’s not much to love) I do know how lucky I am to get it back. Getting a period means that your body is functioning normally, and many women spend years trying to get their’s back.
My advice to anyone who has lost their period for an extended amount of time? Be diligent, ask questions, pay attention to your body, and get answers. Sometimes our periods can feel like curse…but they are actually a blessing.