Can Depression Affect Your Period and Make It Late?

Depression is a potential cause for menstrual irregularities

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Can depression make your period late? While there are many reasons that your period could be late — pregnancy being the most common — depression is a potential cause for menstrual irregularities.

Why does depression affect the menstrual cycle? The reason is actually very simple. Nature does everything it can to create favorable conditions for reproduction. If a woman is feeling chronically stressed, anxious and depressed, this is probably not an optimal time for her to be nurturing a new life, so a woman's body is designed to shut down reproduction under these circumstances.

The stress hormone cortisol is primarily responsible for this shutdown. As cortisol levels rise in response to stress, the hypothalamus, an organ in the brain which is involved in regulating the reproductive system, stops sending the appropriate signals to the ovaries. Without these signals, ovulation (the monthly release of an egg from the ovary) is either delayed or stops altogether, leading to either late or absent periods.

And it's not just mental stress which can cause your period to be late: physical stresses such as poor nutrition, excessive exercise and long-term illness can also be to blame.

There are also quite a few other things besides chronic stress that can cause amenorrhea (the proper medical term for absent periods).  Problems with the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, the ovary, the uterus or the vagina can also cause this condition.

Of course, the first thing to do if your period is late is to take a pregnancy test.

But if that comes back negative and your periods continue to be absent, or you are experiencing chronic problems with menstruation, it's a good idea to see your gynecologist for an evaluation.  She can perform a physical exam and tests to determine just what is going on inside your body.

Some of the things which your doctor might do during her evaluation include:

  • Questioning you about your medical history
  • A pelvic exam
  • Blood testing to check your hormone levels
  • A pregnancy test
  • Genetic testing to see if you have fragile X syndrome
  • Chromosome evaluation to look for chromosomal variations such as Turner syndrome
  • An ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to assess if your reproductive organs are normal
  • An MRI to check for a pituitary tumor
  • A hysteroscopy to examine the inside of your uterus

Not all patients will receive all of these tests. It will vary depending what your doctor learns from your medical history, blood testing, and initial physical exam. It will also depend on your age and if you have ever had a period in the past.

Some of the most common conditions which your doctor might diagnose you with include: polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), hyperprolactinemia, ovarian failure and hypothalamic amenorrhea (the type associated with chronic stress and depression).

The treatments that you might receive will vary, depending on just what is causing your missed periods, as well as what your goals are for treatment.

Some of the possible treatments which your doctor might suggest include:

  • Watchful waiting to see if the problem works itself out
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Stress reduction
  • Scaling back your exercise routine
  • Birth control pills
  • Fertility drugs
  • Estrogen replacement therapy
  • Surgery

And, of course, if your late period is indeed being caused by stress associated with your depression, treating your depression and reducing the stress and anxiety in your life would be key factors in rebalancing your hormones.


Bielak, Kenneth M. et. al.  "Amenorrhea."  Medscape Reference.  WebMD LLC.  Updated:  June 5, 2012.  Accessed:  October 9, 2013.

"Health and Research>A-Z Topics>Amenorrhea."  National Institutes of Health.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.  Last reviewed:  March 3, 2013.  Last updated:  May 7, 2013.  Accessed:  October 9, 2013.

"Obstetrics and Gynecology>Amenorrhea."  Clinical Key.  Elsevier, Inc.  Accessed:  October 9, 2013.

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