Amenorrhea, another common health problem you may have heard of in passing but in all likelihood know very little about.
One of the most frustrating parts about taking charge of our health as women is that it can be downright confusing. In school, we are taught so little about our bodies. Because of this lack of basic education, it can be really difficult to listen and tune in to our bodies. It’s hard to know when something isn’t quite right. Figuring out the terminology, what’s “normal” and when to seek professional advice can be really overwhelming. It’s no wonder that so many of us are left feeling less than 100% and like we need to figure it all by ourselves.
This scenario is exactly why I’ve chosen my path as a Women’s Health practitioner. I want ALL women to have the knowledge and power to take control of their health so that they can live their best life ever. An important aspect of my work is education. It’s my goal to give you the information and tools so that taking charge of your health isn’t so darn difficult and confusing. So let’s break things down, one topic at a time. Today’s topic is amenorrhea.
What is amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is the absence of menstruation. It is defined as three or more missed menstrual periods in a row. There are two types of amenorrhea – primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea is the failure to start having a period by the age of 16. Secondary amenorrhea is more common and refers to either the temporary or permanent ending of periods in a woman who has menstruated normally in the past. In this blog post we will be focusing on secondary amenorrhea.
What causes amenorrhea?
It is important to point out that secondary amenorrhea is a sign of hormonal imbalance and not a disease in and of itself. There are many causes of amenorrhea, and getting to the root of the issue is imperative to helping heal whatever is out of balance. Here are some of the most common causes of amenorrhea.
Pregnancy is the most common cause of secondary amenorrhea. It is completely normal to temporarily lose your period while you are pregnant! Breastfeeding also suppresses menstruation. So, there may be an absence of menstruation for weeks, months, and even years while still breastfeeding. If you are concerned that your period has not returned postpartum, I encourage you to seek out the help and guidance of your healthcare practitioner. If you’re interested in working with me, I’d be SO thrilled to help you out. You can start by filling out this form here.
Another unsurprising cause of secondary amenorrhea is menopause. All good things must come to an end!
Hormonal Birth Control
Certain birth control pills, injectable contraceptives, and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) can cause amenorrhea. It can take a few months after stopping one of these types of birth control for the menstrual cycle to restart and become regular. Post-birth control hormone balancing is SO important. It’s not only for your menstrual health but to your overall health too. If you’ve recently gone off birth control and are struggling with bringing your hormones back into balance, check out my blog post on 3 Hacks to Balance Your Hormones After Birth Control.
This condition occurs when the hypothalamus, a gland in the brain that regulates body processes, slows or stops releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This hormone triggers the start of the menstrual cycle. Other symptoms of hypothalamic amenorrhea are low libido, feeling cold often, difficulty sleeping, depression and/or anxiety, increased hunger and low energy. Common characteristics of women with hypothalamic amenorrhea include:
- Sudden or extreme weight loss
- Low body fat percentage
- Calorie restriction
- Emotional and psychological stress
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal disorder that is becoming more and more common among women of reproductive age. A diagnosis of PCOS is made when you experience at least two of these three signs, known as the Rotterdam Criteria:
- Irregular periods or amenorrhea. Infrequent, irregular or prolonged menstrual cycles are the most common sign of PCOS. For example, you might have fewer than nine periods a year and more than 35 days between periods. You may experience abnormally heavy periods.
- Excess androgen. Elevated levels of male hormone may result in physical signs, such as excess facial and body hair (hirsutism), and occasionally severe acne and male-pattern baldness.
- Polycystic ovaries. Your ovaries might be enlarged and contain follicles that surround the eggs. As a result, the ovaries might fail to function regularly.
I have a whole blog post on PCOS – click here for more information on what PCOS is and how it presents itself in your body, the best foods for PCOS, and my top supplements to help you manage it!
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. The thyroid produces hormones that control metabolism and play a role in menstruation, among many other things. A thyroid gland that is overactive (called hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) can cause menstrual irregularities, including amenorrhea. I see many women in clinic that are struggling with thyroid issues, usually hypothyroidism and/or Hashimotos. For all my clients I have them run thyroid tests with their doctor or the DUTCH Test. This helps us fully understand what is happening in the body. If you’re concerned about your thyroid, reach out and let’s set up a free hormone freedom call to get to the bottom of what’s happening in your body.
Certain antidepressants and blood pressure medications can prevent ovulation and suppress menstruation. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments for hematologic cancer (including blood, bone marrow, and lymph nodes) and breast or gynecologic cancer can also destroy estrogen-producing cells and eggs in the ovaries. This can lead to amenorrhea. Amenorrhea might also result from surgical procedures such as a cesarean section or treatment for uterine fibroids.
What should I do if I’m struggling with amenorrhea?
As you can see, there are many reasons for why you might be experiencing amenorrhea. Sometimes figuring out what might be causing it is difficult too. I want you to know that you are not alone!
The very first step in figuring out what’s going on is to reach out to a trusted healthcare professional. They will want to know if your period has stopped because of a natural condition such as pregnancy or menopause. If you are diagnosed by an MD, they will provide a physical and pelvic exam, and ask about your medical history. You will also be asked to describe your symptoms. A sample of blood and urine may be taken for testing. These steps are all necessary to rule out anything that is more serious.
Alongside working with your MD or family doctor, I highly encourage you to seek out the advice of a naturopath or holistic nutritionist who specializes in women’s health. In my practice, we use testing, nutrition, supplements, mindset and lifestyle changes that are tailored to address your individual health concerns.
How can I prepare for my appointment?
When it comes to our health, everything little detail matters. You can help your healthcare provider by keeping a record of changes in your menstrual cycle with a menstrual calendar. Note how long your periods last and when you had your last period. Also, report any drugs you are taking and changes in your diet and/or exercise program. You should also report any emotional problems you are having, including stress.
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You’ll be fully supported to say buh-bye to all those awful symptoms of hormonal imbalance for good. You’ll get super amazing results with an individualized action plan.
Book a free hormone freedom call to discover if this is the right next step for you!