7 Reasons Your Period Could Be Late Other Than Pregnancy.
“I’m late.” These two words have a pretty powerful connotation. Say them to any fellow adult with the proper gravitas, and the person you’re talking to may assume you’re pregnant. Late periods and pregnancy, in many people’s minds, are inherently connected. One must mean the other, right? Wrong.
True, a late period can be an indicator that you’re pregnant, but it can also be attributed to many other things — or sometimes nothing. “Menstrual cycles vary significantly when you are in your teens, breastfeeding, or going through perimenopause,” Anna Druet, chief scientific researcher at female health app Clue, tells Allure. “Beyond those times, it’s still very normal for cycles to vary, to an extent.”
Before you even begin to get concerned about a late period, know that the timing of yours could vary by up to seven to nine days from one cycle to the next. “Your body is not a clock, after all, and your cycle is constantly adapting to your environment,” Druet says. “It’s much more common to have some variation than to be completely ‘regular.’”
But that time of the month could be delayed for a specific reason. Ahead, eight things that might be keeping your period at bay.
1. You’re super stressed.
Stress doesn’t just affect your mind. It also affects your body, and that includes your cycle. “Stress…activates hormonal changes in the body, encouraging the release of the hormone cortisol,” Druet says. “Cortisol can lead to the suppression of reproductive hormones, causing a delay in both ovulation and the period.”
2. You’re on new meds.
Did you start taking a new birth control or other medication that affects your reproductive hormones? If so, that could be affecting your period. “Some hormonal medications, such as birth control pills, may make the lining of uterus very thin and can also affect the release of reproductive hormones, [delaying] menses in some cases,” Aaron Styer, a reproductive endocrinologist and co-medical director of Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM) Boston, tells Allure.
Aside from birth control, Druet flags thyroid medications and steroids as meds that can potentially delay your period, as they “influence the hormones that control your cycle.”
3. You’ve been exercising excessively.
If you’ve really ramped up your workout routine, you could see the effects in the timing of your period: Expending a lot of energy may signal to your body that it’s time to ramp down the production of fertility-related hormones. “Excessive exercise can affect the delicate cross talk between the brain and ovaries,” Styer says. “As a result, the hormone signals from the brain may not be as efficient as usual in directing the selection of an egg from the ovary.” That may mean your period is delayed, or that it won’t happen at all that month.
Plenty of women who work out may experience somewhat irregular cycles, but if you stop getting your period altogether for three months or more — a condition called amenorrhea — it’s important to see a doctor. Amenorrhea is linked with increased risk for osteoporosis.
4. You’ve been sick or are dealing with a medical condition.
Illness can certainly influence the timing of your cycle, Styer says. The common cold may not be enough to shift your cycle, but both temporary sickness (for example a severe flu) and chronic conditions (such as polycystic ovary syndrome) can throw it out of whack. Druet names thyroid disorders and uterine polyps or fibroids as other conditions that can have the same effect.
5. Your weight or diet has dramatically changed.
Styer says that if you’ve lost or gained a high amount of weight, your cycle may be affected. Your changing diet may also be the cause of a late period, Druet notes. “Severely restricting the amount of calories you consume — or not getting enough calories for how much you exercise — can cause the reproductive hormones to stop, whilst weight gain can cause estrogen to rise,” she says. “Both…can affect the menstrual cycle.”
6. You’ve been crossing time zones.
Did you take a big trip recently? Travel to a far-off land can definitely affect your cycle. “Since the timing and release of reproductive hormones from the brain is dependent upon light, extensive travel across many times zones may temporarily affect the timing of ovulation and cause a delay in when a period may come,” Styer says.
7. You’re getting closer to menopause.
“Women in their 40s and early 50s who are approaching menopause [will see] a normal increase in the frequency of prolonged time intervals between periods,” Styer says. But don’t rule it out if you’re not yet in your 40s. Some women do experience ovary function loss before then.
All this said, Styer notes that you may not be able to pinpoint the cause of a late period without consulting your physician — but you may not need to. “The vast majority of cases of one late period and or few late periods in the course of year does not warrant medical evaluation and should not be of concern,” he says. But if it becomes a recurrent issue — specifically, if you go longer than 40 or 50 days between periods or your periods don’t come at least every 35 to 40 days — then it’s time to make an appointment.
Even if it does end up being nothing (or nothing serious), it’s worth it to get checked out. “Having a menstrual cycle is like having a fifth vital sign — like your blood pressure or pulse,” Druet says. “It can let you know when everything is working as usual, or if something else might be going on. An irregular cycle may be the first noticeable symptom of a treatable hormonal condition.” Because hormones are important for your long-term health, including your heart health and bone density, the earlier you take care of any problems, the better. “Many people only learn they have an issue when they experience difficulty getting pregnant, but their cycles have shown evidence of the condition for a while before that,” Druet points out.
Bottom line? “Befriend your cycle, know your cycle, and track your cycle,” Druet says. “It can give you — and tell you — a lot.”