Why is my period late? An expert explains
Why is my period late? It’s a question that most women will ask at least once, if not multiple times, in their lives.
But before you jump to the obvious answer (and assume it's a sign you’re pregnant), it’s worth considering some of the alternative reasons why your cycle might be stalling.
Not sure what they are? bh spoke to specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist, Dr Hayden Waterham, to find out some of the main reasons behind a late period…
1. A normal physiological variation
As Dr Waterham explains, “Most women experience some variation (days) in the onset of a period in any given month.” Particularly common in young women whose periods have recently started, as well as older women who are transitioning into menopause, these variations are regarded as normal (albeit, a tad inconvenient). The expert also stresses that “Cycle lengths vary considerably between women” overall – from as short as 20 days to as long as 35 days, “with most women identifying ‘my normal’ cycle as somewhere in between.” Thankfully, for women in their late teenage years to late 30s, “the timing of a period is generally more settled and predictable,” Dr Waterham says.
2. Mental stress, including depression and anxiety
The link between stress and our overall health, including reproductive health, is well known. As Dr Waterham explains, “Ultimately, the brain is responsible for initiating and balancing the key signals between itself, the ovaries and the uterus, with the goal of a successful pregnancy.” Thankfully, the brain is able to adjust to the body and identify whether or not it is “the right to conceive a pregnancy”. If is isn’t the right time (aka, it is a time of stress), this can lead to a late or skipped period. Pretty clever, huh?!
RELATED: What does stress do to your body?
3. Physical stress
Similarly to mental stress, physical stress can also play a role in determining the consistency of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Lifestyle factors such as “extreme exercise, diet and weight fluctuations,” as well as “medical illness such as thyroid disease, diabetes and autoimmune disease,” can inhibit a successful pregnancy and therefore also “influence the brain, and subsequently the ovaries and uterus,” to delay or skip a period.
4. Ovarian failure, menopause or polycystic ovarian syndrome
As Dr Waterham explains, our ovaries directly influence the growth of the lining in the uterus, in preparation for a pregnancy. This means that good ovarian health is essential in order for regular menstruation to occur. Menopause, premature ovarian failure and polycystic ovarian syndrome (which the expert says involves the ovaries being “susceptible to the production of too many immature eggs”) can lead to a failure to ovulate, and therefore, a missing period.
As Dr Waterham explains, “The body views pregnancy as a successful cycle and it is therefore one of the common reasons why a period may be late” – particularly if you’re usually pretty regular. Without getting too technical, in the case of pregnancy, the ovum (an egg released by the ovaries) has been fertilised and therefore the membrane lining will not bleed like it does at the usual point in menstruation. However, it is important to bear in mind that vaginal bleeding or spotting can occur during pregnancy and is often mistaken for a period. Therefore, if you have reason to believe that you could be pregnant, it’s worth seeking expert advice, irrespective of whether or not you are experiencing bleeding.
When should I seek expert advice?
As Dr Waterham explains, it can sometimes be worth seeking medical advice in the wake of a missing period. For example, “In women who have previously had a ‘normal cycle’, the absence of any bleeding in a three-month time frame may indicate something more sinister” and is worth investigating. Similarly, “Women who cycle fewer than nine times in any calendar year, or have a cycle length greater than 35 days should also seek advice.” A gynaecological examination, which may also involve “investigations such as blood tests and ultrasound,” can help patients to achieve peace of mind, as well as awareness of any fertility issues, says Dr Waterhouse.
Have you ever panicked about missing a period? How do you keep track of your menstrual cycle?