Missed or Irregular Periods

Topic Overview

Most women have between 11 and 13 menstrual periods each year. You may be different: You may have more or fewer. Missed or irregular periods must be looked at in terms of what is normal for you.

Periods are often irregular during the first few years after menstruation starts. It may take several years for the hormones that control menstruation to reach a balance.

Menstrual periods also may be very irregular at the other end of the menstrual years. Many women realize that they are approaching perimenopause and menopause when their otherwise regular periods become irregular. Menopause occurs when it has been 12 months since you have had a menstrual period.

Pregnancy is the most common cause of a missed period. If you might be pregnant, treat yourself as if you are pregnant until you know for sure. Use a home pregnancy test as the first step to finding out whether you are pregnant.

If you are not pregnant, other causes of missed or irregular periods include:

  • Excessive weight loss or gain. Although low body weight is a common cause of missed or irregular periods, obesity also can cause menstrual problems.
  • Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. For more information, see the topic Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.
  • Increased exercise. Missed periods are common in endurance athletes.
  • Emotional stress.
  • Illness.
  • Travel.
  • Medicines such as birth control methods, which may cause lighter, less frequent, more frequent, or skipped periods or no periods at all.
  • Hormone problems. This may cause a change in the levels of the hormones that the body needs to support menstruation.
  • Illegal drug use.
  • Problems with the pelvic organs, such as imperforate hymen, polycystic ovary syndrome, or Asherman's syndrome.
  • Breast-feeding. Many women do not resume regular periods until they have completed breast-feeding.

Remember, you can still become pregnant even though you are not menstruating. Practice birth control if you do not wish to become pregnant.

Premature ovarian failure is when you stop menstruating before age 40. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis may cause premature ovarian failure.

Other diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome, tuberculosis, liver disease, and diabetes can cause missed or irregular periods, although this is rare. However, if any of these diseases are present, you will usually have other symptoms besides menstrual irregularities.

If you've skipped a period, try to relax. Restoring your life to emotional and physical balance can help. Many women miss periods now and then. Unless you are pregnant, chances are your cycle will return to normal next month.

Use the Check Your Symptoms section to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Home Treatment

There is no home treatment for missed or irregular periods; however, the following information may help you find the cause of your missed or irregular periods:

  • Eat a balanced diet. Being underweight or overweight can cause missed and irregular periods. For more information, see the topics Healthy Eating and Weight Management.
  • If you are an endurance athlete, you may have to cut back on your training. Be sure to talk with your doctor about hormone and calcium supplements to protect against bone loss if you are missing periods. For more information, see the topic Fitness.

If you think you might be pregnant

Do a home pregnancy test if you had sex since your last period. If the result is positive, practice the following good health habits until you see your doctor:

  • Eat a balanced diet.
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products.
  • Do not use alcohol or drugs.
  • Avoid caffeine, or limit your intake to about 1 cup of coffee or tea each day.
  • Do not clean a cat litter box, to avoid the risk of toxoplasmosis.
  • Avoid people who are ill.
  • Take a vitamin supplement that contains folic acid or a prenatal vitamin.

If the home pregnancy test is negative but you continue to have pregnancy symptoms, it is a good idea to see your doctor to confirm the results. Practice good health habits until you see your doctor.

Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment

Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • You have early symptoms of pregnancy, such as:
    • Missed periods.
    • Increased urination.
    • Fatigue.
    • Breast tenderness or enlargement.
    • Nausea and vomiting.
  • You have missed more than three menstrual periods in a row.

Prevention

Here are some steps you can take to help prevent missed or irregular periods.

  • Avoid fad diets that greatly restrict calories and food variety, and avoid rapid weight loss. To maintain a healthy weight, focus on eating a variety of low-fat foods. For more information, see the topics Healthy Eating and Weight Management.
  • Use contraception consistently, as directed by your doctor. For more information, see the topic Birth Control.
  • Increase exercise gradually. For more information, see the topic Fitness.
  • Learn and practice relaxation exercises to reduce and cope with stress. For more information, see the topic Stress Management.

If you participate in endurance sports, you may miss periods or stop menstruating. Eat a healthy, balanced diet and keep track of your periods. Tell your doctor about any changes in your menstrual periods.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What was the date of your last menstrual period?
    • When was your previous period? Was it normal?
    • If you are a teen, do you have regular cycles, such as a period every 21 to 45 days?
    • If you are an adult, do you have regular cycles, such as a period every 21 to 35 days?
  • How old were you when your periods began?
  • Are you sexually active?
  • What type of birth control are you using? How long have you been using it?
  • Have you missed any birth control pills or failed to have your hormonal injection according to schedule?
  • Have you done a home pregnancy test? When did you do the test? What was the result?
  • Have you been under increased physical or emotional stress?
  • Have you recently changed your diet or exercise habits?
  • Have you recently gained or lost weight?
  • What prescription and nonprescription medicines are you taking? Are you using illegal drugs?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Martin Gabica, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Deborah A. Penava, BA, MD, FRCSC, MPH - Obstetrics and Gynecology
Specialist Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Last Updated July 2, 2009

related services

Bon Secours International| Sisters of Bon Secours USA| Bon Secours Health System

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. Privacy Policy. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2010 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.