Note: If you may be pregnant, have just given birth, had abdominal surgery, are menopausal, or are on hormonal medication, please consult a doctor about any unusual lack of period.
Lack of periods (when expected)– The medical term is ‘amenorrhea‘- If you are biologically female but, by age 16, you have not yet started menstruating, you may have primary amenorrhea.
If you have previously menstruated, but your periods have been absent for more than 6 months in a row, you may have secondary amenorrhea. Causes include genetic, or hormonal sexual development conditions and syndromes; pregnancy; menopause; lactation (breastfeeding); stress; Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS); being under, or over-weight; contraceptive medications or devices; or as a side effect of some other types of medication.
There are a number of reasons why your periods can stop ;
- pregnancy (take a home test to rule this out!)
- sudden weight loss
- being overweight or obese
- extreme overexercising
- taking the contraceptive pill or using a hormonal contraceptive device e.g. Mirena.
- reaching the menopause
- polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Lack of periods can also happen as a result of a long-term medical condition, such as heart disease, uncontrolled diabetes, an overactive thyroid, or premature ovarian failure.
Managing Functional Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (lack of period) (i.e. once alternative causes have been ruled out):
Note: If the hypothalamus (part of the brain) senses stress or malnutrition (i.e. over, or under-eating or exercising), it perceives a ‘threat’ and so temporarily shuts down reproductive processes until the threat has passed . This is why this issue is called ‘Functional Hypothalamic Amneorrhea’ (FHA). There are three types of FHA: weight loss-related, stress-related, and exercise-related amenorrhea.
The good news is that it responds particularly well to the four steps outlined on our ‘all symptoms‘ page;
A hormone-balancing diet– Excessive or sudden weight loss can cause your periods to stop. Severely restricting the amount of calories you eat stops the production of hormones needed for ovulation . If you are trying to reduce weight, do not restrict your diet so much that your periods stop, just try a healthy hormone-balancing diet, as described in our blog, and increase the amount of exercise that you take.
Your GP may refer you to a dietitian if you’re underweight (a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.5). The dietitian will be able to advise you about how to regain weight safely. If your weight loss is caused by an eating disorder, such as anorexia, you may be referred to a psychiatrist.
Likewise, if you’re overweight, your body may produce an excess amount of oestrogen, which can also cause your periods to stop . Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian if you’re overweight or obese (a BMI of 30 or more), and it’s affecting your periods.
– Try nutritional supplements– If you are underweight, and lacking periods, you are at high risk of developing osteoporosis in later life . Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is essential to building strong, dense bones when you’re young and to keeping them strong and healthy as you age . Take supplements if you are not sure that you are getting enough calcium (RDA: 1000mg), or Vitamin D (RDA: 400-800 IU), through diet alone. Find out more about this topic on the National Osteoporosis Society website.
– Other useful supplements for treating FHA are Magnesium (100-300 mg daily) which can help to regulate your hypothalamus and pituitary gland function , and Vitex Agnus Castus (200-500 mg of extract daily) to promote ovulation by preventing your pituitary gland from making too much prolactin (which can prevent ovulation) .
TOP TIP! If you eat a lot of soy, try reducing how much you consume for a few weeks to see if that regulates your cycle… Soy can inhibit the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) (which triggers ovulation) produced by your hypothalamus .
Avoid too much exercise- The stress that intense physical activity places on your body can affect the hormones responsible for your periods. Losing too much body fat through intense exercise can also stop you ovulating . You are advised to reduce your level of activity if excessive exercise has caused your periods to stop.
If you’re a professional athlete, you may benefit from seeing a doctor who specialises in sports medicine. They’ll be able to give you advice about how to maintain your performance whilst looking after your health. As with those who are underweight, athletes who have stopped having periods are at high risk of developing osteoporosis in later life . Bone loss can also lead to decreased athletic performance, decreased ability to exercise or train at desired levels of intensity or duration, and increased risk of injury .
Healthy exercise– Regular exercise can boost mood, improve self-esteem, and help reduce weight, or maintain a healthy weight . So, if your periods have stopped due to being overweight, exercise is a great way to help get them started again .
Self-esteem– Improving your self-esteem is very important in regard to reducing stress, managing weight issues, eating healthily, and taking a healthy amount of exercise.
The Oxford Cognitive Therapy Centre produces highly effective (and cheap!) booklets on ‘Building Self-Esteem‘ and ‘Overcoming Eating Disorders‘ (the focus is on bulimia, anorexia and binge eating, rather than obesity- although research shows that these conditions share several characteristics and risk factors - especially in regard to low self-esteem). Individuals might also benefit from the support of a specialist counsellor.
Reduce stress hormones– In the case of stress-induced FHA, it is precisely the high levels of stress hormones (especially cortisol) in the body that trigger the hypothalamus to shut down reproductive processes .
If you’re not sure what’s causing your stress, track stressful episodes in a diary (or on your symptom tracker chart!). Then review it to identify the possible triggers…
Regular exercise, such as running, swimming or yoga, can help you relax, as can breathing exercises. The NHS also recommends these ‘10 stress busters‘…
If you have tried the suggested tips and tricks for at least 3 months, and your symptoms do not improve, please consult your doctor.
If you have any suggestions, or tips, for managing this issue- please let us know– we can share them with others!
- NHS page on lack of periods- https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stopped-or-missed-periods/
- Verity- UK Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) charity-http://www.verity-pcos.org.uk/
- NHS weight loss community – http://www.nhs.uk/LiveWell/weight-loss-guide/Pages/weight-loss-guide.aspx
- Beat- UK Eating disorders charity- https://www.b-eat.co.uk/
Page last reviewed and updated: June 2018
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- Meczekalski, B., Katulski, K., Czyzyk, A., Podfigurna-Stopa, A., & Maciejewska-Jeske, M. (2014) ‘Functional hypothalamic amenorrhea and its influence on women’s health’ Journal of Endocrinological Investigation, 37(11), 1049–1056. http://doi.org/10.1007/s40618-014-0169-3
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