|When Periods Stop|
Menstruation should be a normal part of a woman’s life, but not all women have a period every month.
When Kgomotso, 29, suddenly stopped having periods early last year, she thought it was wonderful. “I used to get such bad cramps that I hated my period. The doctor always told me this was normal, so I’d have to curl up around my hot-water bottle and take pain killers whenever I got my period,” she says. A few months ago, Kgomotso went to her gynaecologist for her annual pap smear. “The doctor asked me when my last period was and I told her it was a year ago. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with not getting one every month because I was enjoying my new freedom. “But to my surprise, the doctor told me that for a woman of my age, it is not normal for my periods to just stop.”
There is a huge variation in what doctors consider to be “normal” because each woman is different. However, these are the factors that they look at:
* Age range: Most women tend to start getting their periods, a term referred to as “menarche”, sometime between the ages of nine and 15. If menarche does not occur in this age range, then it is not considered normal.
* Cycle: A cycle is defined as the number of days between the first day of your bleeding until the first day of your next period. A normal cycle can range anywhere between 21 and 35 days.
* Duration: This is how long a period lasts. Normal periods have a duration of two to seven days.
* Flow: The amount of bleeding, or flow, can be quite variable for different women. However, if you notice a significant change in the amount of flow compared to your previous periods, it could be a sign of abnormal flow.
In Kgomotso’s case, her periods were totally normal until she all of a sudden stopped menstruating at 28. What happened to her body that caused this? Her doctor asked her a series of questions to find the cause of her amenorrhea, which is the medical term for a lack of periods for three consecutive months or more.
* Pregnancy: This is by far the most common cause of amenorrhea. As obvious as it may seem, it can be easily missed at the doctor’s office! Just because you don’t get your periods, it doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant. Kgomotso’s pregnancy test was negative, however.
* Stress: We tend to blame a lot on stress these days. However, there really is a condition called “hypothalamic-pituitary amenorrhea”, a term that refers to the absence of periods due to hormone changes in the brain that tell the female body parts that you are too stressed out to have a baby. Your periods will stop in response. Kgomotso said she’s actually been less stressed out than usual since she’s adopted an adorable puppy.
* Eating disorders: What is Kgomotso’s nutrition like and how often does she eat? Eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia, also tell the brain that you are not healthy enough to carry a pregnancy, thereby shutting down your periods. Kgomotso happens to be healthy and eats five small balanced meals a day.
* Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS): This is a common health condition that is the result of elevated testosterone levels, a hormone that causes excess body hair, weight gain, acne, and problems with periods. Kgomotso does not suffer from excess body hair or acne, and is not overweight. In fact, if anything, she is slightly underweight at 50kg and 1.65m tall. To be on the safe side, her doctor performed a blood test, which showed Kgomotso does not have PCOS.
* Hormonal conditions: Besides PCOS, there are other less common health conditions, such as thyroid disorders and disorders that cause an elevation in the hormone prolactin, that may cause amenorrhea. These disorders can easily be tested through a simple blood test, and Kgomotso’s tests were normal.
* Medications: Kgomotso wasn’t taking any medications, such as birth control, steroids or anti-psychotic pills that could possibly cause her periods to stop.
* Uterine problems: Irregularities in the uterus, such as endometritis (when the lining of the womb becomes inflamed) can cause period problems, but Kgomotso has not experience anything like that.
* Vigorous exercise: Working out is great for our hearts and our bodies. However, like everything in excess, it may do more harm than good. Kgomotso had started a strict exercise regimen to train for her first marathon. That’s when her periods stopped.
It’s important for women to have a regular menstruation cycle, not just to be able to fall pregnant, but because it also lowers the risk of osteoporosis. Three months after Kgomotso’s marathon her periods resumed since she stopped the heavy training. So what can you do to keep your periods regular? Here are some tips to help protect your periods:
* Eat a well-balanced healthy diet. Do not skip meals or overeat. If you suffer from an eating disorder, see your doctor and get help right away. Do not be afraid to talk to a professional or close friend about this, because you are not alone.
* Exercise. It is heart healthy and necessary, but do not over- do it. About 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times a week along with some muscle-toning or strengthening exercise is enough.
* De-stress your life. Learn some relaxation techniques, find a hobby, get rid of clutter or talk about your frustrations. Do whatever you need to do to minimise the stress in your life.
* See your doctor. You may need a physical exam and blood test to make sure you don’t have any underlying health conditions. Make sure to bring all of your medication bottles to your visit, including all the vitamins and herbal supplements you’re taking. If you have had any surgeries, make sure you mention those to your doctor, too.
If you have irregular periods, or none at all, it’s important to seek medical help to find out what the cause is. Don’t be embarrassed to speak openly to your GP or gynaecologist about your menstrual cycle.