What Is Amenorrhea?
What is amenorrhea? It is the medical term for when a woman does not menstruate (get her period), regardless of the cause. It is not usually a deadly condition and it affects about 1% of American women.
Because it is a physiological state rather than a disease caused by a specific pathogen, there can be several possible causes, which may have different treatment options. This article will walk you through the causes, symptoms and treatment options, as well as tips on how to prevent this condition when possible.
Causes of Amenorrhea
There are two categories; primary is when a young woman experiences delays in getting her first period and secondary occurs in adult women when menstruation stops. The most common cause of primary is a family history of it.
There are several different causes of secondary amenorrhea and some of them are just natural functions of the body, while others are unnatural.
Women do not get their period during pregnancy and a late period is often an early indicator of pregnancy. Amenorrhea also lasts for about six to eight weeks after giving birth in women who do not breastfeed.
In women who do breastfeed, amenorrhea may continue for the duration of the breastfeeding period, or they may get their period again while still breastfeeding. It can vary from woman to woman.
Women who have completed menopause experience permanent amenorrhea as part of a natural life cycle.
Birth control pills and other forms of contraception may stop periods in certain women. In fact, one motivation for taking birth control for some women is shorter, lighter periods that occur less frequently.
Antipsychotics, cancer chemotherapy, antidepressants, blood pressure medication and allergy medicines are all drugs that may cause women to stop having their period.
Low body weight, excessive exercise and stress may all be contributing factors for lack of a period. This is why women with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia often experience amenorrhea.
Menstruation is regulated by hormones, so hormonal imbalances can throw this cycle out of whack. Some of the illnesses that can cause these imbalances include polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid malfunction, a pituitary tumor, or premature menopause.
Sometimes the issue is purely physical. Women with advanced uterine scarring may experience this health condition and congenital issues with the reproductive organs may cause a woman never to get her period.
What Are the Symptoms?
It is very easy to spot, since the primary symptom is not getting a period, which will be easily noticed by most women. Additional symptoms of amenorrhea vary based on the cause, but can include:
- Vision changes
- Facial hair
- Changes in breast size
- Milky discharge from the breasts
When it is caused by pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause, it cannot be treated and is part of the normal, healthy lifecycle of a woman. In some other cases, it will not be desirable to treat. For example, a young woman on birth control who does not get her period may be perfectly happy that way. However, amenorrhea caused by an underlying health condition should be treated.
In young women experiencing the primary type, the best treatment is often to watch and wait, since periods may start naturally on their own. In young women experiencing this as a result of an anatomical issue, surgery may help, but this is not a guarantee.
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Secondary Amenorrhea Treatment Options
For secondary types, the treatments largely depend on the underlying cause that is determined by your doctor.
Adjusting Lifestyle Factors
If amenorrhea is caused by either excessive weight loss or exercise, changing exercise plan or diet may help periods return to normal. Receiving treatment for mental health in the form of counseling or medications may help if amenorrhea is thought to be caused by stress.
If amenorrhea is caused by a thyroid issue, hormonal imbalance, or other disease, a doctor can prescribe an appropriate treatment that may also handle the amenorrhea.
Adjusting Birth Control
If amenorrhea is caused by birth control, then changing the type of birth control or stopping birth control entirely may cure the amenorrhea. However, this may not always be necessary if a woman is otherwise healthy.
Natural amenorrhea is unpreventable, since it is considered normal and healthy. Not all unnatural causes of amenorrhea are easily predicted and prevented, like amenorrhea caused by a thyroid problem, hormonal imbalance, or physical problem.
Amenorrhea caused by lifestyle factors may be preventable by maintaining a healthy weight, moderating exercise and reducing stress. Amenorrhea caused by birth control is easily preventable by not taking the birth control or sticking to forms of birth control that do not interfere with the body, like condoms.
Talk to Your Doctor
Amenorrhea can be frightening if you are not expecting it, but it is not generally considered a deadly condition and, depending on the cause, it may even be normal and healthy. But you should always discuss new symptoms with your doctor, since they know your medical history and can help you determine if your amenorrhea needs to be treated.