Amenorrhea is a medical term referring to the absence of a woman’s menstrual period. In particular, there are two types of amenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea is when a girl hasn’t started her periods by age 15. Secondary amenorrhea occurs when a woman who has had regular menstrual cycles stops getting her menstruation for almost six months. (in the absence of pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause).
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Experiencing amenorrhea does not always signal a serious problem. It can occur for reasons such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause which are all normal life stages. However, amenorrhea can also be caused by problems with the reproductive organs or with the glands that regulate hormone levels.
What are the symptoms of amenorrhea?
Aside from the obvious symptom of missing your menstrual cycle, you might experience other symptoms depending on the cause of amenorrhea. These symptoms can include:
- Hair loss
- Excess facial hair
- Lack of breast development
- Vision changes
- Pelvic pain
- Milky discharge from the breasts
What causes amenorrhea?
A variety of factors can cause amenorrhea, including:
- Natural causes, such as pregnancy, breastfeeding, or menopause
- Lifestyle factors like excessive exercise, eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia), or significant weight loss or gain
- Hormonal imbalances associated with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), thyroid malfunction, or pituitary tumors
- Structural issues, like congenital absence of the uterus or vagina or blockages in the uterus or vagina
- Certain medications, including birth control pills, antipsychotics, cancer chemotherapy, antidepressants, blood pressure drugs
Who is at risk of amenorrhea?
Women and girls who participate in activities that require maintaining a low body weight, such as ballet, may be at a higher risk. Those with a family history of amenorrhea or premature menopause could also have an increased risk.
How is amenorrhea diagnosed?
Amenorrhea can be diagnosed through a series of steps:
- Medical History: Your doctor will review your personal health history, family history, and any recent life changes or stressors.
- Physical Examination: A general physical examination, including a pelvic exam, may be performed.
- Blood Tests: These tests can help identify potential issues with hormone levels.
- Imaging Tests: Ultrasound, CT, or MRI may be used to get a closer look at your reproductive organs.
What are the treatments for amenorrhea?
The treatment for amenorrhea generally depends on the underlying cause.
- Lifestyle modifications: If lifestyle factors are causing amenorrhea, your doctor may recommend changes like adjusting your exercise routine, eating a balanced diet, or seeking help for stress or mental health issues.
- Hormonal medications: In cases where a hormonal imbalance is causing amenorrhea, your doctor may prescribe hormonal contraceptives or other types of hormone therapies.
- Surgery: If a physical blockage or structural issue is causing amenorrhea, surgery may be recommended.
In conclusion, amenorrhea isn’t usually harmful, but if you’ve missed multiple periods, it’s best to see your healthcare provider identify any potential issues and start appropriate treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment can help stop long-term complications like osteoporosis or potential fertility issues.