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Expert Q&A

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How soon should I worry about a missed period?

Asked by Joycelyn Lee, Via e-mail

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If you know that you are not pregnant, how long is too long before you should be alarmed if you don't have your period? What could be the possible reasons for a delayed period? When should you see a doctor?

Expert Bio Picture

Living Well Expert Dr. Jennifer Shu Pediatrician,
Children's Medical Group

Expert answer

Thanks for your question. It can be normal for women to skip some periods even if they are not pregnant. There are many reasons for missed or delayed periods. The most common causes are pregnancy (as you have mentioned), breastfeeding and menopause. Other reasons include a recent change in weight (either weight loss or gain), stress (such as emotional stress or physical stress from illness or very strenuous exercise), medication side effects and hormone problems. After stopping birth control pills, for example, it may be possible to miss your periods for several months. Also, hormonal imbalances such as abnormal thyroid or adrenal gland levels can cause changes in periods. Finally, cysts or tumors on parts of the body involved with menstruation -- such as the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain, or the ovaries (polycystic ovarian syndrome) -- may be the cause.

If a woman was previously having periods on a regular (roughly monthly) basis but then goes without one for more than three to six months, a visit to the doctor is recommended. The doctor will ask questions about the woman's lifestyle (such as eating and exercise habits), medications and any other symptoms. Laboratory tests of the blood or urine may be performed in addition to a pelvic exam and possibly some imaging studies such as an ultrasound of the pelvis. The treatment will depend on what your tests show. If no obvious cause of missed periods can be found, the doctor may suggest trying certain medicines to see whether the periods will start again.

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