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Absence of Periods

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The medical term used to describe "absence of periods" is amenorrhea. Women normally do not menstruate before puberty, during pregnancy, and after menopause. If a woman does not get her period when she normally should, it may be the symptom of a treatable medical condition.

There are two types of amenorrhea: primary amenorrhea and secondary amenorrhea. Primary amenorrhea is when a young woman has not had her first period by the age of 16. Secondary amenorrhea is when a woman who has had normal menstrual cycles stops getting her monthly period for three or more months.

What Causes Amenorrhea?

Amenorrhea can be caused by any number of changes in the organs, glands, and hormones involved in menstruation.

Possible causes of primary amenorrhea (when a woman never gets her first period) include:

  • Failure of the ovaries (female sex organs that hold eggs)
  • Problems in the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) or the pituitary gland (a gland in the brain that makes hormones involved in menstruation)
  • Poorly formed reproductive organs

In many cases, the cause of primary amenorrhea is not known.

Common causes of secondary amenorrhea (when a woman who has had normal periods stops getting them) include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Breast feeding
  • Stopping the use of birth control
  • Menopause
  • Some birth control methods, such as Depo-Provera

Other causes of secondary amenorrhea include:

  • Stress
  • Poor nutrition
  • Depression
  • Certain drugs
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Over-exercising
  • Ongoing illness
  • Sudden weight gain or being very overweight (obesity)
  • Hormonal imbalance due to polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Thyroid gland disorders
  • Tumors on the ovaries or brain (rare)

A woman who has had her uterus or ovaries removed will also stop menstruating.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on August 21, 2014
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