A late period is often an express ticket to panic town and all the alarms shout “pregnancy”. But is pregnancy really the only reason for a late period? No!!
There are plenty of other factors than can cause a period to be late, and some may be a bit problematic. Let’s get into it.
Late period: cause for alarm?
First, let’s start with regular periods. Even a regular period can be late by one day or two and that’s normal and no cause for alarm. In fact, menstrual cycles are on average 24 to 38 days long, not just 28. Only if you have a very regular period and it is more than 3 days late could it become worrisome.
Weight loss or low body weight
If your body weight is below what is considered healthy for your height, if you are restricting calories too much, lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time, or have an eating disorder like anorexia, these might be the cause for your late period. This is also called secondary amenorrhoea.
Obesity, just like being underweight, can cause hormonal changes, which in turn can cause delays in your period.
Stress can and will mess you up, at all levels. And also your periods. Stress not only throws off your hormones but also messes with your hypothalamus, the gland that controls your periods. So, if your period is late, maybe you are way too stressed.
While exercise is generally good for the whole body, mind and soul, excessive exercise can be harmful for your health. In the case of late periods, excessive exercise can make you lose too much body fat and indirectly cause secondary amenorrhoea. Learn to adapt your workouts to your cycle.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common condition in women that makes your body produce more male hormones, androgen, and thus cause cysts on your ovaries. This imbalance can make ovulation irregular, or even stop it, which can in turn make your period late.
Hormonal birth control
Your period is caused by hormones, so hormonal contraceptives can interfere with it. In fact, check what hormonal birth control does to your period. Hormonal contraceptives the pill, the birth control patch, the vaginal ring, the contraceptive shot, the implant, and the IUD.
The thyroid regulates the metabolism. An overactive or underactive thyroid can affect hormonal levels and make your period late.
This is what the period between the end of menstruating and entering menopause is called. If you are around the age of menopause, maybe this is the reason for that late period. If you are too young, still can’t rule out early menopause.
Other conditions like diabetes, endometriosis, or coeliac disease can indirectly affect your hormones and cycle, and cause late periods.
Signs you need to go to the doctor
As a rule of thumb, we’d say to go to the doctor whenever you feelsomething is wrong. But do it especially if:
- Your periods stop for several months and you are not pregnant;
- You have always been regular and suddenly irregular periods;
- You have a cycle that varies a lot in length;
- Your cycle is too short (<24 days) or too long (>38 days);
- You bleed or “spot” often in between periods or after sex;
- You have other symptoms like vaginal discharge or fever;
- If you think you might be entering menopause or early menopause.
But be ready!
Be ready for an unexpected period, and for a doctor’s appointment. How? Easy.
To avoid awkward situations, keep a couple of tampons or pads (or both!) at the bottom of your backpack or in your desk at work. If your period is late, consider bringing a change of underwear, in case you bleed through yours away from home.
In case you need to go to the doctor or gynaecologist, it would certainly help to have a record of your periods: length, intensity, pain levels, PMS symptoms, delays and others. Sounds too much? Well, there are fantastic apps to track your period that simplify the process for you.
Prepare for your first visit to the gynaecologist and leave the stress home.
Take good care. Of your vagina. Of yourself. Of our planet.