Definition

Menstruation, or a menstrual period, refers to the monthly process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue because pregnancy did not occur.

Not having or missing a menstrual period is called amenorrhea. The types are:

    
  • Primary—Menstruation has not begun in an adolescent around 16 years of age. Most females begin menstruating between 9-18 years of age, though the average is 12 years of age.
  • Secondary—A woman who has previously menstruated misses 3 or more periods in a row.
  • Menstrual Flow

    Menstrual Flow

    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Causes

    The most common cause of secondary amenorrhea is pregnancy. In non-pregnant women, it may be due to a variety of factors.

    Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase the risk of amenorrhea include:

        
  • Dramatic weight loss (which can occur from extreme diets, eating disorders, or excessive exercise) or dramatic weight gain
  • Malnutrition
  • Birth defects, including lack of female reproductive organs
  • Chromosomal or hormonal abnormalities
  • Certain conditions, such as a thyroid disorder or pituitary tumor
  • Medications, such as certain contraceptives
  • Emotional distress
  • Uterine scarring
  • Symptoms

    The main symptom for primary amenorrhea is the absence of a menstrual period in a female by age 16 years or older. The main symptom for secondary amenorrhea is 3 or more missed periods in a row in a woman who has previously had menstrual periods.

    When Should I Call My Doctor?

    Call your doctor if you:

        
  • Have not had your first period and are aged 16 years or older
  • Miss having your period
  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

    Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

        
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

        
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Treatment

    Treatment will depend on what is causing amennorrhea. Examples include:

        
  • Weight-related cause—A healthy caloric intake and exercise routine usually restores hormonal balance and menstruation.
  • Birth defect—Surgery may be needed.
  • Hormonal irregularity—Hormonal therapy may be needed.
  • Emotional distress—Relaxation techniques, therapy, and exercise may help to decrease stress.
  • Pituitary tumor—Surgery, radiation therapy, or medication may be needed.
  • Prevention

    Amenorrhea may or may not be preventable, depending on the cause. Follow these general guidelines to prevent amenorrhea:

        
  • Maintain an appropriate level of body fat.
  • Get help for an eating disorder.
  • Treat conditions that can lead to amenorrhea, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, pituitary tumor, and hypothyroidism.