Amenorrhea is a menstrual condition characterized by absent menstrual periods for more than 3 monthly menstrual cycles. Amenorrhea may be classified as primary or secondary:
- Primary amenorrhea. From the beginning and may be lifelong. Menstruation never begins at puberty.
- Secondary amenorrhea. Due to some physical cause and usually of later onset. A condition in which menstrual periods that were at 1 time normal and regular become increasingly abnormal and irregular or absent.
There are several possible causes of amenorrhea, including:
- Pregnancy. Females no longer ovulate when they are pregnant. Menstruation ceases temporarily.
- Ovulation abnormality. Ovulation abnormalities are usually the cause of very irregular or frequently missed menstrual periods.
- Birth defect, anatomical abnormality, or other medical condition. If a young woman has not started to menstruate by age 16, a birth defect, anatomical abnormality, or other medical condition may be suspected.
- Eating disorder. Females with anorexia and/or bulimia often experience amenorrhea as a result of maintaining a body weight that would be too low to sustain a pregnancy. As a result, the reproductive system "shuts down" because it is severely malnourished.
- Overexercise or strenuous exercise. Many young female athletes in training experience absent menstrual cycles due to low body fat content.
- Thyroid disorder. In many cases, an underactive thyroid gland or an overactive thyroid gland is responsible for the absent menstrual cycles.
- Obesity. Females who are obese often experience amenorrhea as a result of excess fat cells interfering with the process of ovulation.
- Pituitary adenoma. A tumor that forms in the brain that may interfere with the normal functions of the hormones. This can prevent ovulation and cause loss of periods.
Diagnosis begins with a gynecologist or other health care provider evaluating a female's medical history and a complete physical examination. This includes a pelvic examination. A diagnosis of amenorrhea can only be certain when the health care provider rules out other menstrual disorders, medical conditions, or medicines that may be causing or making the condition worse. In addition, a diagnosis of amenorrhea requires that a female miss at least 6 menstrual cycles in a row, without being pregnant. Young women who haven't had their first menstrual period by age 15 should be evaluated promptly. Making an early diagnosis and starting treatment as soon as possible is very important.
How is amenorrhea treated?
Specific treatment for amenorrhea will be determined by your adolescent's health care provider based on:
- Your adolescent's age, overall health, and medical history
- Extent of the condition
- Cause of the condition (primary or secondary)
- Your adolescent's tolerance for specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
- Expectations for the course of the condition
- Your adolescent's opinion or preference
- Progesterone supplements (hormone treatment)
- Oral contraceptives (ovulation inhibitors)
- Treatment of underlying cause through medicines or possibly surgery
- Dietary changes (to include consuming more calories and fat)
- Calcium supplementation to reduce bone loss