The menstrual cycle occurs in all females from the onset of puberty (average age 11 or 12 years) and continues until the menopause at middle age. Each month, the uterus develops a deep, cushioned wall, ready to receive a fertilized embryo.
If pregnancy doesn’t take place, this cushioned lining is shed via vaginal bleeding.
Menstrual periods last anywhere from two to seven days and the average cycle is once every 28 days, although it can vary. Anywhere between 24 and 35 days is considered a normal cycle.
If you have a delayed menstrual cycle and it is usually regular, it can be a worry.
Causes of late periods are:
Sexually active women could be pregnant and it is in fact often the first sign that a woman is pregnant. By two weeks late, all home pregnancy tests should be able to detect HCG, the pregnancy hormone, in your urine.
In fact, most can detect it the day your period was due and some of the newer, early detection tests can test positive a few days before you would have had your period!
If you’ve had a busy schedule or a family trauma, it can delay your period. Ironically, if you’ve had unprotected sex and are worrying about the possibility of pregnancy, the stress can stop your period and make you think you’re pregnant when you’re not.
• Just beginning to have periods
If you are a pre-teen or teenager who has just started menstruating, it is normal to have late periods or even to skip a few altogether because it can take your body several months to get into the rhythm of it.
• Weight loss
If you have suddenly lost a lot of weight through dieting, this can delay or stop your period. People with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa often cease to menstruate.
Even if you don’t have a specific eating disorder, a healthy diet is required for a healthy cycle. If you eat a lot of junk food, this could impact on your periods, so make sure you have plenty of fresh fruit, vegetables and grains in your diet.
• Other medical conditions
Conditions such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (cysts on the ovaries) can cause light periods that are irregular or stop altogether. Thyroid disorders can also cause it as the thyroid controls hormones and the menstrual cycle is dependent upon hormones.
Structural problems with the uterus and tumors, either benign or cancerous, are other possibilities.
• Iatrogenic complications (doctor caused illnesses)
Illnesses caused by doctors can result in a late or absent period, for instance. If you have had surgery to your uterus, such as dilation and curettage (D and C), this can cause widespread scarring. It can actually block off your cervix, cutting off your menstrual blood’s exit from your body.
The blood then backs up inside you and can cause infection. This is a potentially serious condition that requires medical attention to fix it. If you’ve had a D and C, a termination, removal of fibroids or tumors and you haven’t had a period since, see your doctor.
• Some types of contraception
The contraceptive injection, Depo-Provera, can cause delayed periods or stop them altogether. On the other hand, it can also make you bleed more heavily.
Some women will not have periods for the whole time they are being injected. Each injection provides contraception for three months and its effects and side effects can last 18 months or longer after the injections are stopped.
The pill and other hormonal contraceptives can also interrupt your cycle. There may be a delay in re-starting your period after stopping the pill.
• Being between 45-55 years of age
You may be approaching your menopause. In the initial time before the menopause, periods become more irregular and it is normal to be late with some and miss others as your ovulation gradually shuts down.
Periods, Irregular, Causes, NHS Choices. Web. 23rd May 2012. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Causes.aspx
Menstruation, absent, Medline Plus. Web. 23rd May 2012. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003149.htm
The Pill, University Health Services. Web. 23rd May 2012. http://www.uhs.wisc.edu/health-topics/womens-health/the-pill.shtml
Depo-Provera, Net Doctor. Web. 23rd May 2012. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/sex-and-relationships/medicines/depo-provera.html
Joanna is a freelance health writer for The Mother magazine and Suite 101 with a column on infertility, http://infertility.suite101.com/ . She is the mother of five children and practices natural childbirth, delayed cord clamping, full term breastfeeding and organic food diet.
Reviewed May 23, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith