What Is Amenorrhea?

Amenorrhea, defined as the absence of menstruation, can happen at any time, from puberty to later in life. If a girl has not had a period by the time she is 16, the condition is called primary amenorrhea. Secondary amenorrhea is when menstruation stops after previously having had periods. Pregnancy may be the first thought in such a situation, but it may not be the case. There are many causes of amenorrhea.

Amenorrhea is not a disease, but it is a sign that things are not as they should be. Seldom does it result in a serious problem. However, knowing the reason for the cessation is a valuable asset in calming the mind while waiting for the menstruation to reappear. Often there is an underlying problem that needs to be addressed and when it is, menstruation returns to normal.

What Are The Signs Of Amenorrhea?

The most obvious sign that you may have amenorrhea is that you are no longer having a menstrual period. Primary amenorrhea is the absence of a period by age 16. Secondary amenorrhea means you have not had a period for three to six months. Depending upon the cause of the amenorrhea, there may be other symptoms such as a discharge from the nipples that is milky, headache, vision changes, or hirsutism (excessive hair growth on the face and torso).

Primary Amenorrhea

Primary amenorrhea is caused by a number of different things such as chromosomal abnormalities that can cause a premature loss of eggs and follicles which are part of the ovulation process. A malfunction of the hypothalamus, the control center for the body and the place where menstruation is regulated, caused by over exercising, anorexia, physical stress or psychological issues can also cause amenorrhea. A tumor or some other type of growth on the pituitary gland may disrupt the function of this gland to regulate the menstrual cycle. Sometimes a baby girl is born without all of the organs of the reproductive system. A lack in these organs will cause amenorrhea. If there is an obstruction of the vagina, perhaps by a membrane or wall that blocks the flow of blood from the uterus, then amenorrhea may result as well.

Secondary Amenorrhea

Secondary amenorrhea is more common and can be caused by pregnancy, birth control pills and injected or implanted contraception as well as progesterone-containing intrauterine devices such as Mirena. Mothers who breast-feed often experience missed periods, even though ovulation may occur. Stress can affect the hypothalamus which in turn affects menstruation. Medication, illness and hormonal imbalances are all causes of amenorrhea. PCOS is a common cause of amenorrhea. High, sustained levels of hormones, rather than fluctuating levels as is normal, results in a decrease in the pituitary hormones that cause ovulation and menstruation. Low body weight and excessive exercise are also contributors to amenorrhea. When a woman has low body fat, is too stressed and has high energy expenditures, then amenorrhea will likely occur.

There are several more factors that go along with amenorrhea, such as premature menopause, thyroid malfunction, pituitary tumor and uterine scarring. If a woman is suffering from amenorrhea it is important she talk with her health care provider to discover the root of the problem so it can be addressed properly.

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