Dear Doctor K: I have not had my period for three months. I'm not pregnant and I'm only 40, so I'm too young for menopause. What's going on?
Dear Reader: What you're experiencing sounds like secondary amenorrhea. I say that because you've menstruated in the past, you're not old enough to be entering menopause, and you've stopped menstruating for three or more consecutive months. That's the definition of secondary amenorrhea.
Having regular menstrual periods requires the normal production of sex hormones in the brain (the hypothalamus and pituitary gland). These sex hormones travel through the blood to the ovaries. Sex hormones produced by the ovaries are what tell the uterus to go through the changes that lead to monthly periods - and allow you to conceive a child. So, problems in the brain, the ovaries or uterus can all cause secondary amenorrhea. Some more specific causes include:
Emotional or physical stress.
Rapid weight loss.
Frequent strenuous exercise.
Recent use of hormonal birth control methods, including birth control pills, the patch and long-acting progesterone. A woman who stops taking birth control pills may not have a period for three months to a year.
Polycystic ovary syndrome. This condition is associated with a tendency to be overweight, with excessive body and facial hair and hormonal irregularities.
Abnormal production of certain hormones, such as testosterone, thyroid and cortisone.
Tumors of the pituitary gland, ovaries or uterus.
About one in 100 women who are age 40 get what's called premature ovarian failure. Their ovaries suddenly stop making sex hormones and stop releasing eggs. The causes of this condition are largely unknown, but we do know that autoimmune diseases are associated with the condition.
To figure out the reason for your loss of regular menstrual periods, check with your doctor.
Write Dr. K at www.AskDoctorK.com or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut, Kansas City, MO 64106
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