Let’s say you’ve not been sexually active, and that rules out the possibility of pregnancy, so why is your period late? I’m sure most of us would have experienced a really late period or a skipped period, at least once in our lives, so today we will be talking about a few reasons why your cycle may be delayed.
This is one of the most common factors that lead to a delayed period, and is definitely one that most of us face in day-to-day situations. As stress levels rise, so does chance that your menstrual period will temporarily stop. This is because stress contributes to the suppression of the functioning of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland in turn, controls other hormone releasing structures that will ultimately disrupt the delicate balance of hormones that bring about your normal menstrual cycle.
In stressful situations, the brain identifies reproduction as a non-essential function, and hence puts a hold on the menstrual cycle. And this is why it is all too common to miss a couple of periods after a stressful examination period, or after a traumatic experience. But your menstrual cycle should be able to readjust once the levels of stress diminish, and hormones come back into balance.
PCOS occurs when hormone imbalances happen that result in higher levels of male sex hormones (androgens) in women. This then causes the disruption of regular ovulation, acne, and the growth of excess facial and body hair. This also causes the build up of many small cysts on the ovaries, due to the failure to release mature eggs from the ovaries. If ovulation is delayed or inhibited, then once again hormones will be thrown off, and your period will be delayed as well.
If you are facing extended delays in your period, and very light periods when you do get them, as well as acne that refuses to go away, you may be facing PCOS, but don’t be alarmed, it is actually more common than you think: almost 1 in 10 young women will show symptoms of PCOS sometime in their lives. If you are diagnosed with PCOS, your doctor will most likely put you on birth control pills, such that your menstrual cycle is regulated by the hormones contained in these pills.
While your body does release more “pleasure” neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, after you exercise, your body also secretes more stress hormones, such as cortisol, when you exercise excessively and intensely. Cortisol interferes with the brain’s ability to stimulate the production of reproductive hormones, that are essential for the maintenance of your menstrual cycle. And this leads to delayed periods.
However, this effect is compounded when combined with low body weight. This is because these two factors acting together trick the body into thinking that it is in a “starvation state”. When the amount of energy expended during exercise is not balanced by adequate nutritional intake, the body begins to shut down systems that are not essential for survival, including the reproductive system. Long-distance runners, ballerinas and people who carry out similarly high intensity activities extremely frequently are at particular risk of getting amenorrhoea this way. So before you decide to take on that crash diet, with a crazy workout routine to match, take a moment to consider what this will do to your hormones, and menstrual cycle.
When you’re on birth control, your hormones are regulated such that your period, or rather breakthrough bleeding, only comes during specific timings. Birth control pills contain the hormones estrogen and progestin, which prevent ovulation from occurring. However, when you go off birth control, your body may not be able to readjust its hormone levels back to normal within a short period of time. Once stopping the pills, it may take up to 6 months for your cycle to go back to normal, and in the meantime you may have a few missed periods.
Do you find your period being delayed every time you go on a long holiday? Yes, lifestyle changes can affect your menstrual cycle. Whether is it jet lag, taking on shift work (and hence changing sleeping habits), even moving into hostel, where there is a major change in your usual lifestyle can be a factor to period delay. Such delays are usually event based, once you settle in, your cycle should return to normal.
While these are only a few of the reasons as to why your period may be late, if a lesson can be taken away from today’s article, it would be that hormone imbalances are the common denominator that will cause a disruption of your menstrual cycle, delaying your period. So basically, any activity that will cause a prolonged hormone imbalance will most likely cause a disturbance to your cycle.
Period delay is common and there is really nothing to worry about. On a lighter note, it means experiencing longer “freedom” before aunt flo arrives. If you do miss your menstrual periods regularly, it is often a sign of decreased estrogen. Amongst other consequences, lower estrogen levels can lead to osteoporosis, a disease in which your bones become brittle and more likely to break. So if you’ve not had your period for several cycles, then consult your local gynae to seek professional help, with a little bit of help your hormones can usually become regulated once again!
Chen Wei Chua
Chen Wei is an undergrad majoring in Psychology. She's currently spending a year in New York City, where she's interning at a startup. When she's not at work, you can find her practising yoga, or exploring the Big Apple with her camera in hand.