What is amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is the complete absence of menstruation or menstrual periods. That’s different than oligomenorrhea (less frequent periods). There are two types of amenorrhea: primary and secondary. Primary amenorrhea typically denotes the lack of occurrence of the first menstrual period by 16 years of age. Women who have been menstruating regularly and whose periods then stop for at least three months are considered to have secondary amenorrhea.
There are several possible reasons for primary amenorrhea, including disorders of the ovaries, genetic defects, or an infection contracted while still in the womb or shortly after birth. Primary amenorrhea may also be the result of childhood cancer.
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Secondary amenorrhea often occurs in women who are using hormone-releasing contraceptives, such as birth control pills, patches or injections, or intrauterine devices (IUD). These contraceptives can lighten or stop the menstrual periods. Generally, the amenorrhea will resolve and menstrual periods will start again after the contraceptives have been discontinued. Amenorrhea can also affect pregnant women and women who are nearing menopause.
Secondary amenorrhea may also be caused by anxiety or other emotional strain, excessive exercise, eating disorders, or obesity. Women with body fat of less than 15% often experience amenorrhea. Hormonal imbalances may also contribute to amenorrhea. Tumors of the pituitary gland are a rare cause of amenorrhea.
Seek prompt medical care if you have missed two or more consecutive periods. If you have reached the age of 16 years and have not yet started menstruating, seek prompt medical care.
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- Amenorrhea - primary. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001218.htm.
- Secondary amenorrhea. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001219.htm.
- Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.