Odds are, at some point in your life you’re going to miss a period. When it happens, though, it can lead to confusion or even worry, especially if it’s frequent.
And looking for answers can sometimes cause even more confusion. That’s why we’re here–to demystify your hormones and help you understand what’s normal, what’s not, and what next steps to take.
So, let’s get down to your main question…
Is it normal to miss a period?
The short answer: maybe, but only every now and then.
The long answer: since we know “maybe” isn’t very helpful, is that it depends on a few things, including your age and overall health.
If you only started your period a few years ago, then yes, it’s probably normal to miss a period every now and then! Your body is still learning how to cycle, and your hormone levels probably haven’t evened out just yet.
On the flip side, if you’re older and approaching perimenopause, it’s also likely that you’ll begin to miss periods every now and then. Your cycles may become longer and irregular, and this will result in you feeling like you missed a period.
If you’re approximately 20-40 though, in “peak reproductive age,” missing periods frequently is likely a sign of an underlying issue with ovulation or hormone health. Frequent missed periods is called amenorrhea, and can have several causes besides pregnancy.
If you’re in this situation, read on to learn about why you may miss a period and what you can do about it.
What does it mean if I miss a period?
Missing a period is actually about more than just your period. That’s because your period is ultimately the result of hormonal activity throughout your entire cycle, including ovulation.
During the first half of your cycle, the follicular phase, estrogen rises and causes the uterine lining to become thicker. Rising hormones also lead to ovulation, or the release of an egg.
After ovulation, during the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase), progesterone rises and helps maintain the uterine lining to prepare for a potential pregnancy.
Finally, at the end of the luteal phase (which is typically a consistent length) progesterone will drop and the uterine lining is shed – and that’s your period!
So you can see, for you to get your period, there’s actually a lot that has to go right first, including estrogen rising, LH surging, ovulation, and progesterone rising during the luteal phase.
If you miss a period, and you know you aren’t pregnant, it probably means you actually didn’t ovulate yet. If you’re tracking ovulation, you’ll be able to tell that you haven’t ovulated yet, and you’ll know you haven’t missed your period, it’s just delayed.
Or, if you are tracking ovulation and you know you’ve ovulated, it may be time to test for pregnancy.
6 Potential Causes of a Missed Period
If missed periods are more often caused by missed ovulation, what can cause this? And what does it mean for you and your health? For the rest of this article, we’ll cover the most common reasons for missed periods, and what steps you can take.
Pregnancy is of course the main reason people suspect they’ve missed a period. This is because if an egg is fertilized and implants in the uterine wall, the uterine lining will never be shed and will help nourish the pregnancy.
If you aren’t sure if you ovulated yet or not, or you think that you might be pregnant, taking a pregnancy test is probably a good idea. Typical pregnancy tests will require you to wait until the day you expect your period, but you can test up to five days early with Proov Check.
Stress is another common reason to miss a period or have delayed ovulation, especially if it’s just every now and then. Occasional anovulation, or not ovulating, is actually really common-it’s estimated that up to a third of cycles are actually anovulatory!
It takes your body a lot of resources to prepare for a potential pregnancy, so if you’re experiencing stress, your body may choose to save those resources and delay ovulation. If you’re chronically stressed, you may miss several periods, and that can be an indication that you need to take additional steps to get your stress under control.
Adjusting things so that you can reduce stress, sleep better, or alleviate the cause of the stress altogether will likely help you regulate your cycles again. If your stress is severe, we recommend contacting your doctor.
3. Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition affecting the ovaries and often resulting in anovulation. Symptoms include missed periods, weight gain, body hair, and insulin resistance, and 1 in 20 women may have PCOS.
For more information, check out our earlier blog Understanding Your Fertility with PCOS, to learn why PCOS causes anovulation and what specifically you can do next.
4. Changes in weight
Weight can affect your period in two main ways. One is that adipose tissue (fat cells) makes estrogen, so if you are overweight, you may experience high estrogen that can delay or suppress ovulation. Your doctor or a dietitian may be able to help you eat
The second way that weight affects your period is that, again, if we think of ovulation as something your body only does when it has the resources to sustain a possible pregnancy, weighing too little can also mean delayed or absent ovulation and missed periods.
This can also be related to high levels of exercise, which your body also understands as stress and will often delay ovulation. You may have heard stories of elite athletes losing their periods!
While many athletes don’t consider this a problem, it means your body isn’t ovulating properly and you may need some extra support for your hormones.
In particular, people with eating disorders are likely to experience amenorrhea. If you have or think you may have an eating disorder, contact your doctor or call or text the National Eating Disorders Association Helpline at (800) 931-2237.
5. Birth Control
If you are currently on hormonal birth control, you probably aren’t ovulating anyway. The “period” you may experience, especially during the placebo week of pills if you have one, is actually just a withdrawal bleed when the uterine lining is destabilized due to a lack of hormones.
Sometimes, you may not experience a bleed depending on your form of birth control or your current hormone balance. This typically isn’t a problem, but you can contact your doctor if you’re unsure.
If you’ve recently come off birth control, it can take several months for your hormones to regulate again and for you to ovulate regularly. If you’re missing periods during this time, that will likely go away on its own.
If you aren’t having regular periods six months after coming off hormonal birth control, you may want to make sure you’re ovulating successfully and go from there.
During the transition from peak reproductive age to menopause, you may experience many symptoms including hot flashes, night sweats, and irregular cycles. In fact, missing periods and irregular cycles may be one of your first signs that perimenopause is starting.
Once you’ve gone a full year with no period, in addition to other symptoms and confirmed hormonal changes, you’re considered to be in menopause.