Irregular Periods: Why Is Sometimes Period Are Late?

If someone’s menstrual cycle is shorter than 24 days or more than 38 days long, or if the length varies significantly from month to month, they may have irregular periods. Doctors call this oligomenorrhea.

It is normal for the menstrual cycle length to vary slightly from month to month, especially if someone is going through puberty, breastfeeding, or approaching menopause.

Many other factors can affect period regularity too such as stress, medications, and mental or physical health conditions.

Irregular periods aren't always a sign of a problem. We break down what you should know about how to identify irregular periods, what causes them and when to see a doctor.

During a normal menstrual cycle, an egg is released from one of your ovaries during ovulation. If the egg is not fertilized by a sperm, changing hormone levels signal your body to release the blood and the tissues that line your uterus.

This bleeding typically lasts about five days. Then, the monthly cycle repeats itself.

But some women have what is called abnormal uterine bleeding — another term for irregular periods — which can happen for a variety of reasons, from stress and lifestyle factors, to more serious underlying medical conditions.

What Is An Irregular Period?

An irregular period is when the length of your menstrual cycle unexpectedly falls outside of your regular range. Irregular periods can include abnormal uterine bleeding, such as:

  • Bleeding or spotting between periods
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Heavy bleeding during your period
  • Menstrual bleeding that lasts longer than normal
  • Bleeding after you’ve reached menopause

After puberty, many women have a regular menstrual cycle. However, it's normal for the cycle to vary by a few days each time. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), between nine and 14 percent of women have irregular periods between their first period and menopause.

Reasons For A Late Period, Missed Period Or Irregular Period

There are many reasons why you may have irregular, missed or late periods, from stress to more serious medical conditions.

Common Causes Of Irregular Periods Include:

Uncontrolled Diabetes — If you have uncontrolled diabetes, your periods may be irregular because the interaction between your blood sugar levels and hormones can disrupt your menstrual cycle

Eating Disorders — If you have an eating disorder, such as anorexia or bulimia, you may have irregular or missed periods. This is because your body is not producing and circulating enough hormones to control your menstrual cycle.

Hyperprolactinemia — Women who have too much of a protein hormone called prolactin in their blood can have irregular periods.

Medications — Certain medications, including anti-epileptics and antipsychotics, can cause irregular periods.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome — PCOS is caused by imbalanced sex hormones, which can disrupt regular menstruation.

Premature Ovarian Failure — According to the National Institutes of Health, the ovaries of women with POF stop working before the age of 40. However, some women with this condition have occasional periods.

Stress — Stress hormones can affect menstruation and prolonged stress can cause your period to be delayed or for you to skip it entirely.

Also, when you first begin menstruating, it may take some time time before your period becomes regular. Your period may become irregular up to eight years before menopause.

What to Do When Periods are Late?

If you experiencing any of the following symptoms, it may be time to talk to your doctor:

  • You haven’t had a period for 90 days
  • Your period suddenly becomes irregular
  • You have a period more often than every 21 days
  • You have a period less often than every 35 days
  • Your period lasts for more than a week
  • Your period becomes unusually heavy
  • You bleed between periods
  • Your periods are extremely painful

A gynecologist will be able to determine the cause of your irregular periods and help you to develop the best treatment plan.

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