Amenorrhea-A Symptom Not A Disease
When a girl has not had a menstrual period by the time she is 16, she has a condition called primary amenorrhea. If a girl or woman has been regularly menstruating and then suddenly stops for a period of three to six months or more, but is not pregnant, the condition is called secondary amenorrhea. Amenorrhea seldom happens because of a serious problem. However, it is a signal to do some checking to find the root cause of the cessation of menstruation.
Primary Amenorrhea-What Causes It?
Primary amenorrhea affects less than one percent of adolescent girls in the United States. There are common causes for primary amenorrhea, including chromosomal abnormalities that cause a premature depletion of eggs and follicles involved in ovulation and menstruation. A disorder of the hypothalamus, the area at the base of the brain that regulates menstruation can also cause amenorrhea. The normal function of the hypothalamus is disrupted by behaviors such as excessive exercise, eating disorders such as anorexia, and physical and psychological stress. A tumor may also interfere with the normal function of the hypothalamus.
Another gland that is integral to the proper function of menstruation is the pituitary gland. Pituitary disease, a tumor, or other type of growth may disrupt the normal operation of this gland as it relates to menstruation. Birth defects, such as when a baby girl is born without a full complement of reproductive organs, perhaps missing her uterus, cervix, or vagina, also causes amenorrhea. Because she did not develop normally, she cannot have menstrual periods. A membrane or wall in the vagina may obstruct the flow of blood from the uterus and cervix. This obstruction prohibits menstruation.
Secondary Amenorrhea - Am I Pregnant?
Secondary amenorrhea is more common than primary amenorrhea and is most frequently caused by pregnancy. Certain contraceptives cause amenorrhea. Birth control pills may cause amenorrhea for six months after cessation and implanted or injected birth control may have the same effect. Progesterone-containing IUDs, such as Mirena, also may cause a cessation in menstruation. Breastfeeding women often experience absence of their periods, even though ovulation may occur. Other factors such as stress, medications, low body weight, and excessive exercise are contributors to amenorrhea.
The Thyroid Connection
One common cause of amenorrhea is thyroid malfunction. Hypothyroidism often causes irregularities and thyroid disorders can affect the production of prolactin, a hormone generated by the pituitary gland. When the prolactin level is altered, the hypothalamus can be affected and the menstrual cycle is disrupted. Uterine scarring, premature menopause, and other hormonal issues also affect the menstrual cycle of women.
Diagnosing And Treating The Problem
Since amenorrhea is a condition that encompasses many hormonal problems, testing for diagnosis can take time. Blood tests, physical examinations, ultrasound, and MRI are all possible diagnostic tools to determine the cause of the amenorrhea. Treatment will be determined by the cause of the amenorrhea. It could be PCOS, which would require hormone treatment. If the cause is thyroid or pituitary gland problems, then medication may be necessary.
Amenorrhea's primary side effect is anxiety. By working with your doctor, you can arrive at a diagnosis and find ways to regulate your cycle.