Amenorrhea is basically the absence of menstrual periods in a woman of childbearing or reproductive age. Generally, for a woman who is trying to conceive, missed or late periods can be a major indication that she is pregnant. Though in some cases, absence of periods can be considered as an early sign of being pregnant, sometimes the situation is not as one expects it to be. This is because a missed period or unexplained interruptions in the regular menstrual cycle, need not necessarily be a symptom of pregnancy rather can be a result of some kind of disorder in the menstrual cycle.
One such disorder is amenorrhea wherein the menstruation stops due to some unexplained reasons. The term amenorrhea has been derived from Greek words, 'a' meaning without, 'men' as month, and 'rhea' meaning flow or discharge. During the reproductive years of a woman's life, physiological states of this medical condition can be seen during pregnancy and lactation (breastfeeding), otherwise, the condition can also prevail during childhood and even after menopause.
Amenorrhea and pregnancy are two conditions in a woman's life which need not depend on each other. In fact, primary amenorrhea has no relation with pregnancy, as this type occurs during childhood when a girl does not get her menstruation by the age of 16. Also, this type is usually seen in extremely thin girls or athletic girls who do not have sufficient body fat to stimulate estrogen and other sex hormones.
Likewise, secondary amenorrhea is another condition in which a girl even after having regular periods for a certain period of time, experiences no bleeding for consecutive 3 to 4 months. This condition can prevail in a woman of childbearing age and can be misconceived for maternity. However, secondary amenorrhea is typically the result of drop in hormonal levels, infertility, or some kind of reproductive complication, premature menopause, or intrauterine scar formation. Another type is hypothalamic amenorrhea, which is characterized by an abnormality of the hypothalamus, a basal part of the diencephalon governing autonomic nervous system. Hypothalamic abnormality can be a result of low body fats, exercise, stress, eating disorders, obesity, and even maternity.
There are various factors that may result in this medical condition, varying from hormonal imbalance, i.e., abnormal levels of sex hormones to poor nutrition. Hence, here are some of its probable causes:
- Birth defects of the female reproductive system
- Absence of an opening in the membrane at the entrance of the vagina (hymen)
- Hypothalamus or pituitary gland problems or abnormalities
- Stress and anxiety
- Drastic weight reduction
- Hormonal imbalance (such as with polycystic ovarian syndrome)
- Endocrine disorders such as thyroid disease or pituitary disease/tumor
- Use of birth control pills and other contraceptives
- Premature ovarian failure or menopause
Besides the most obvious sign of this medical condition, i.e. absence of menstrual period, most women exhibit some other symptoms, as well, including increased facial hair, deepening of the voice, reduced breast size, lowered sex drive, and breast secretion. It can also lead to some underlying complications to the reproductive system like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or ovarian cyst, hirsutism, or uterine fibroid. On a more severe side, it can also affect the fertility and can lead to conception complications. Basically, the affected women experience anovulatory, a lack of ability to produce viable eggs for conception or in simple words, they are unable to ovulate.
The treatment for this medical condition primarily depends upon its underlying cause for missed or absent periods. For mild cases, a few healthy changes in the diet and lifestyle (meditation or massage) can help one overcome this disorder. However, for severe conditions, the affected person should consult a doctor to diagnose the actual cause and for necessary treatment. Onset of this problem does not mean that one cannot conceive at all, as there have been cases, where a woman can become pregnant even after not getting her menstruation for months. Hence, the best way to ascertain the possibilities for conception if one is having this condition is to consult a health care provider.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.