Amenorrhea is the medical term for the absence of a menstrual period. In teenage girls, it describes someone who has not gotten her first period by age 16. For women who have previously menstruated, it refers to the absence of more than three consectutive menstrual cycles. (1)
Amenorrhea is not a disease, but in some cases, it may be a symptom of another condition. It can occur in healthy women when they are pregnant, breastfeeding, on certain contraceptives, or experiencing the skipped periods in the time before menopause, known as perimenopause.
But in other women, amenorrhea can be a signal of trouble, especially if the missed menstruation appears with other symptoms. (1)
Signs and Symptoms of Amenorrhea
Doctors divide amenorrhea into two types. Primary amenorrhea refers to a condition in a girl who has never menstruated by the age of 16, or sometimes 14.
Secondary amenorrhea generally refers to three months of missed periods, or sometimes fewer, in a woman who previously had a normal cycle. (2)
The absence of menstrual bleeding is labeled “amenorrhea.” But in some cases it is accompanied by other symptoms, indicating an underlying condition. For instance, women may have excess facial hair, headaches, hair loss, vision changes, or other symptoms in addition to the lack of a period. When this is the case, it is especially important to be checked by your healthcare provider. (1)
Some women have very light periods that may not last long. If there is any bleeding, this is not considered amenorrhea.
RELATED: Is Your Period Normal?
Use (or abuse) of certain medications, including antipsychotics or drugs to treat certain cancers, can also stop your period for a time. (4)
Sometimes the dysfunction occurs for other reasons. Hormonal issues can stop menstruation in a previously regular woman, or it can be the cause of primary amenorrhea, where the menstrual period hasn’t yet begun.
Common hormonal problems causing amenorrhea include:
- Endocrine disorders, especially polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Dysfunction or tumors in various hormone-producing glands, such as the hypothalamus, pituitary, or thyroid
- Primary ovarian insufficiency (also called premature ovarian failure)
Occasionally, primary amenorrhea results from a congenital anatomic abnormality of the reproductive system or from a genetic condition, such as fragile x syndrome. (3)
How Is Amenorrhea Diagnosed?
A diagnosis of amenorrhea begins with your answering questions of your healthcare provider, including about your medical history, eating and exercise habits, and any medicines or supplements you may be taking. (5)
You’ll also want to report about your typical menstrual cycle, including how long it has been since your last period. This is why it’s smart for all women to regularly keep track of their cycle, either using a calendar or a period tracking app designed especially for this purpose.
Duration of Amenorrhea
Once the cause of the amenorrhea has been identified and treated, the menstrual period should return.
Sometimes it requires stopping behaviors that are causing the lack of period, such as exercising excessively, being too thin or obese, or experiencing too much stress. (4)
Contraceptives may also result in amenorrhea. This is not dangerous, and your period will typically return about three months after you stop taking or using them. (3)
RELATED: Speaking Menstruation: A Glossary of Terms Used to Describe Symptoms, Tests, Treatments, and More
Prevention of Amenorrhea
To best regulate your menstrual cycle, maintain a healthy body weight and do a proper amount of exercise. (2)
If you experience symptoms of any conditions known to cause amenorrhea, you’ll want to see your healthcare professional right away to prevent the disease from worsening and bringing on a long bout of amenorrhea.
Research and Statistics: Who Experiences Amenorrhea?
Resources We Love
Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Includes a comprehensive review of both primary and secondary amenorrhea for teens and adult women.
This esteemed medical resource for professionals also has a detailed section on amenorrhea geared to consumers.
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- Amenorrhea. Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. January 31, 2017.
- Amenorrhea: What You Should Know. American Family Physician. April 15, 2006.
- Pinkerton JV. Amenorrhea. Merck Manual Professional Version. July 2019.
- Absent Menstrual Periods — Secondary. National Library of Medicine.
- Absent Menstrual Periods — Primary. National Library of Medicine.
- What Are the Treatments for Amenorrhea? Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. January 31, 2017.
- Amenorrhea: Symptoms & Causes. Mayo Clinic. July 25, 2019.
- Ding DC, Chen W, Wang JH, et al. Association Between Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome and Endometrial, Ovarian, and Breast Cancer: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Taiwan. Medicine. September 2018.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). Mayo Clinic.
- PCOS and Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. March 24, 2020