The first question that comes to the mind of most women when their period gets delayed is, "Am I pregnant?" However, what one must understand is that having a delayed period does not necessarily mean that one has conceived. Rather there are several different reasons that can contribute to the delay in periods. But first, let us try to understand the function of the menstrual cycle.
The Menstrual Cycle
Normally, a menstrual cycle is of 28 days. However, this need not be same for all women. There are many women whose menstrual cycles are anywhere between 18 to 35 days long. Every month the body gets ready for pregnancy, when ovulation occurs on the 14th day from the day of the first period. However, when the egg is not fertilized during that period, it begins to disintegrate and the woman gets her period after fourteen days.
A woman's periods depend on the day of ovulation. Women who have irregular periods may not ovulate on the 14th day of the menstrual cycle, instead it could be somewhere between 8th and 20th day. However, when the periods get delayed more than it usually does, it is necessary to consult a doctor.
Reasons for Delay in Periods
Pregnancy: One of the main reasons for such a delay is pregnancy. Therefore, if you are sexually active and have missed your period, it is important to get a pregnancy check done.
Initial Years of Menstrual Cycle: The menstrual cycle takes time to normalize after it starts. Hence, in the initial years after the start of menstruation, a young girl will observe an irregular pattern in her cycle.
Weight Gain: Overweight women may experience irregular periods, because excessive weight can lead to a significant change in the menstrual cycle. It is advisable to maintain a healthy body weight to avoid such problems.
Weight Loss: Underweight women also suffer from menstrual problems, as their bodies find it difficult to produce the required amount of estrogen in order to support ovulation. Hence, they should try to gain more body fat to regularize their periods.
Eating Disorders: Women who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia usually have irregular periods. Sometimes, the periods ceases altogether. This is mainly because of a drastic unhealthy weight loss, owing to lack of nutritional food intake.
Being an Athlete/Dancer: Endurance athletes or dancers often indulge in long, intense sessions of exercise and physical activity. This affects the estrogen hormone level adversely and often results in amenorrhea or delay in periods. Balanced diet supported by a break of few days between two rigorous physical activities can help to bring the cycle back to normal.
Intense Exercising: Similarly, excessive exercising by women can also impact their menstrual cycle. Sometimes, women who exercise vigorously face the problem of amenorrhea throughout the year.
Contraceptives: There have been cases where women taking contraceptives have experienced delayed periods. Therefore, it is extremely important that you consult your gynecologist before taking any type of birth control measures.
Thyroid Disorder: Having an undiagnosed thyroid problem can also be the reason for having delayed periods. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can affect the menstrual cycle. Many times, a thyroid problem results in anovulation or a weaker ovulation, and a very short duration of luteal phase.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS): It is caused due to the imbalance of female sex hormones. A woman suffering from PCOS experiences irregular ovulation that causes delay in menstrual periods. Your gynecologist will recommend certain medical tests, to ascertain the cause. PCOS can be cured with proper treatment and your periods will be back to normal.
Hormonal Problems: Many physical diseases and emotional stress can alter the hormonal levels. This affects the regularity of periods.
Perimenopause: The period of transitioning from a reproductive age to menopause is called perimenopause. Periods tend to be irregular during this phase. It may not only affect the flow of menstruation, but will also alter the frequency of the period.
Chronic Disease: Women suffering from acute or chronic diseases are also said to experience irregular or delayed periods. However, this is only temporary, and once they are cured of the illness, their periods may return to normal.
Medicines: Certain medication like antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, oral corticosteroids, etc. can cause delayed periods. Also, drugs taken while undergoing chemotherapy and thyroid treatment may also affect the menstrual cycle.
Stress and Anxiety: Other reasons for a delayed period include emotional stress and anxiety. Women who have a stressful lifestyle may sometimes face the problem of late periods. When a woman is undergoing some kind of anxiety or stress, it leads to hormonal changes in her body which directly affect the hypothalamus that carries out the regulatory function of the menstrual cycle.
Emotional Changes: Sometimes a woman goes through major emotional upheavals in her life which may cause depression, anxiety and restlessness. It can be any emotional stress, including death of a loved one, domestic problems or work related issues. All this takes an adverse toll on the well-being of the woman and may also affect her menstrual cycle.
Change in Schedule: Constant changes in the daily schedule of a woman can also cause amenorrhea. If there is a constant shift in the sleeping time, the body clock may get affected.
Travel: If you are traveling, changes in schedule, jet-lags, diet, exercise, stress, etc. can contribute in delaying your period. Get ample amount of sleep, regular exercise, healthy food and rest during traveling to prevent an irregular cycle.
Breastfeeding: Many women do not get their periods while they are lactating and breastfeeding. Some may also experience delayed or irregular menstrual cycle. The menstrual cycle will be back to normal once they stop nursing their children.
Apart from this, health problems like pituitary tumor, Asherman's syndrome, uterine scarring, primary ovarian insufficiency, etc. can lead to delayed periods. Also, consuming illegal drugs can affect your body adversely. Late menstrual cycle may also be caused due to tuberculosis, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes and liver disease. Eating soy in excess amounts can also result in a delay in the menstrual cycle. So, the next time your period is delayed, do not panic; consult a gynecologist who will help you in finding the root cause of the problem.
Disclaimer: This HerHaleness article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.