Is Not Having a Regular Period Bad For You?

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Question: Is Not Having a Regular Period Bad For You?

Answer:

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) affects at least 10% of women of childbearing ages in the United States. PCOS is characterized by high levels of testosterone (all women have testosterone just like all men have estrogen) creating an imbalance of female sex hormones. In fact, PCOS is the most common cause of ovulatory infertility due to the hormone imbalance seen with the condition.

Having irregular periods is a definite symptom of PCOS. However, there are many things that can cause irregular periods, and PCOS is not the only one.

The Risks Of Not Getting Your Period

An occasional missed period is normal. However, not having a regular period can increase your risk for endometrial cancer. During a normal menstrual cycle, the endometrium is exposed to hormones, like estrogen, which cause the lining to proliferate and thicken. When ovulation does not occur, which is typical in PCOS, the lining is not shed and is exposed to much higher amounts of estrogen causing the endometrium to grow much thicker then normal. This is what increases the chance of cancer cells beginning to grow. If you do not get regular periods, keep a calendar documenting when and how often you do get your period so you can speak with your doctor.

Keep in mind that this does not apply if you are taking a birth control pill, especially one designed to prevent you from getting your period more then once every few months.

The pill keeps your hormone levels low, and endometrial lining thin, dramatically reducing your risk of endometrial cancer.

Causes of Missed Periods

PCOS is diagnosed when a woman has irregular 98 or fewer in a year) or absent periods in addition to signs of elevated androgens, either by her symptoms or through blood testing.

Symptoms of high testosterone (one type of androgen) include abnormal hair growthhair loss, and acne.

If you are a teenager who has only recently gotten her first period, or an older woman approaching ovarian failure (or menopause), irregular cycles are very common because your hormones are fluctuating.

If you lose a significant amount of weight or are under a lot of stress, your periods may be affected as well.

Other medical conditions such as low thyroid can also cause you not to get your period. 

Treatment for Irregular Periods

There are many different ways to treat irregular or absent periods in PCOS depending on your goals and health history. Generally, it's not good if you're not shedding your uterine lining each month. This can cause a build up in the endometrial lining, increasing the risk for uterine cancer.

Some doctors recommend oral contraceptives to balance out hormones and create a regular cycle. Although not indicated for this reason, Metformin can also help some women regulate their cycle.

Women with PCOS can experience regularity to their menstural cycle through weight loss, changes to their eating, and exercise. In addition, the dietary supplement inositol, has been shown to be helpful to regulate periods and balance hormones in women with PCOS. 

If your periods suddenly become irregular or if they never become regular as a teenager, you should bring it to your doctor’s attention. Further diagnostic testing and/or medical intervention may become necessary.

Updated by PCOS Expert Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN

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