by Kohnle D

Absent Periods

(Absent Menses; Amenorrhea)

Definition

Menstruation, or a menstrual period, refers to the monthly process in which the uterus sheds blood and tissue because pregnancy did not occur.
Not having or missing a menstrual period is called amenorrhea. The types are:
  • Primary—Menstruation has not begun in an adolescent around 16 years of age. Most females begin menstruating between 9-18 years of age, though the average is 12 years of age.
  • Secondary—A woman who has previously menstruated misses 3 or more periods in a row.
Menstrual Flow
Menstrual Flow
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

The most common cause of secondary amenorrhea is pregnancy. In non-pregnant women, it may be due to a variety of factors.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of amenorrhea include:
  • Dramatic weight loss (which can occur from extreme diets, eating disorders, or excessive exercise) or dramatic weight gain
  • Malnutrition
  • Birth defects, including lack of female reproductive organs
  • Chromosomal or hormonal abnormalities
  • Certain conditions, such as a thyroid disorder or pituitary tumor
  • Medications, such as certain contraceptives
  • Emotional distress
  • Uterine scarring

Symptoms

The main symptom for primary amenorrhea is the absence of a menstrual period in a female by age 16 years or older. The main symptom for secondary amenorrhea is 3 or more missed periods in a row in a woman who has previously had menstrual periods.

When Should I Call My Doctor?

Call your doctor if you:
  • Have not had your first period and are aged 16 years or older
  • Miss having your period

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:

Treatment

Treatment will depend on what is causing amennorrhea. Examples include:
  • Weight-related cause—A healthy caloric intake and exercise routine usually restores hormonal balance and menstruation.
  • Birth defect—Surgery may be needed.
  • Hormonal irregularity—Hormonal therapy may be needed.
  • Emotional distress—Relaxation techniques, therapy, and exercise may help to decrease stress.
  • Pituitary tumor—Surgery, radiation therapy, or medication may be needed.

Prevention

Amenorrhea may or may not be preventable, depending on the cause. Follow these general guidelines to prevent amenorrhea:
  • Maintain an appropriate level of body fat.
  • Get help for an eating disorder.
  • Treat conditions that can lead to amenorrhea, such as polycystic ovary syndrome, pituitary tumor, and hypothyroidism.

RESOURCES

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org
Office on Women's Health
http://www.womenshealth.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca
The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada
https://sogc.org

References

Amenorrhea. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116009/Amenorrhea. Updated March 14, 2016. Accessed September 27, 2016.
Amenorrhea. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/amenorrhea.html. Updated February 2014. Accessed October 7, 2015.
Current evaluation of amenorrhea. American Society for Reproductive Medicine website. Available at: http://www.asrm.org/uploadedFiles/ASRM%5FContent/News%5Fand%5FPublications/Practice%5FGuidelines/Educational%5FBulletins/Current%5Fevaluation(1).pdf. Published 2008. Accessed October 7, 2015.

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