While experiencing menstruation is no bed of roses, women tend to worry when it doesn’t arrive with puberty or stops altogether, way before this was meant to happen. If this happens to you, you may be wondering, “Is something wrong with me?” or, “Could I be pregnant?” The truth is that there are many reasons why menstruation fails to occur so there’s no point in wasting time on anxiety, when you could be learning all you can about amenorrhea and its common causes.
First of all, it’s important to distinguish between primary and secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is defined as not having experienced menstruation by the age of 16. Secondary amenorrhea occurs at some point after menstruation has already become a fact of life, and then disappears for 3 months or more. Pregnancy is a common cause of secondary amenorrhea but is by no means the only reason for the sudden absence of menstrual periods.
Amenorrhea is not a medical condition. It’s a sign of something else going on in your body. If it happens to you, see your physician. This is the best way to determine the cause and resolve both your anxiety and your amenorrhea. Your physician will want to know if you have any other signs or symptoms, such as headache, facial, chest, or abdominal hair growth, a milky discharge from your nipples, or vision changes, which, when combined with amenorrhea, may suggest specific conditions.
Less than 1% of adolescent American girls fail to begin menstruating by age 16. Here are the most common causes of primary amenorrhea:
Abnormal Chromosomes—Sometimes an adolescent girl will experience an early deficit of the eggs and follicles necessary to ovulation and the menstrual cycle.
Hypothalamus Dysfunction—The term for amenorrhea caused by a disorder of the hypothalamus is functional hypothalamic amenorrhea. The hypothalamus lies at the base of your brain and one of its functions is to regulate menstruation. Eating disorders, too much exercise, or even stress can cause a malfunction of the hypothalamus. In rare cases, a tumor may affect the workings of the hypothalamus.
Diseases of the Pituitary Gland—The pituitary gland plays a crucial role in the regulation of the menstrual cycle. A mass or tumor can cause the pituitary gland to malfunction.
Absence of Reproductive Organs—At some point in the development of the fetus, a malfunction occurs so that a baby girl is born without specific organs necessary to a woman’s reproductive system, for instance the vagina, cervix, or uterus. Without the basic structures, the menstrual cycle cannot take place.
Malformation of the Vagina—Sometimes the structure of the vagina presents an obstruction to the flow of menstrual blood. This may take the form of a thin membrane inside the vagina which prevents the blood from exiting the uterus and cervix.