Every woman is different, and every body is different. That means that the timing of our periods can be like clockwork for some, and can seem completely random for others. However, it’s important to note what our “regular” cycle is (whatever that means), and to stay attuned to anything out of the norm. According to WebMD, a woman generally gets her period every 24 to 38 days, lasting for about two to eight days. If your period is abnormally late, here are a few possible reasons why – other than a pregnancy. (Side note: if you’re sexually active, you should get a pregnancy test regardless!)
Your thyroid – the butterfly-shaped gland in your throat – controls many of the hormones and other important functions in your body: It regulates your appetite, energy and stress levels. Irregularities in your menstrual cycle might point to something awry in the thyroid. More frequent and lighter periods can be a sign of hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid. On the flip side, less frequent and heavier periods might indicate hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.
Check out our article on “5 Signs Your Thyroid is in Danger” to see if you recognize any of the other symptoms of thyroid issues.
According to the Mayo Clinic, endometriosis is a disorder in which tissue from inside of the uterus (or the endometrium) starts growing outside of the uterus. Of its other symptoms, like painful periods, painful sex and painful bowel movements, one of the major warning signs of endometriosis is period irregularities. For some, that could mean having a very heavy flow; for others, it can mean having a very painful flow. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention.
Too much stress
Excessive stress can impact more than your mental health; it might also result in irregularities in your cycle. When you’re very stressed, cortisol, or the “stress hormone,” starts accumulating in your body, and it can interfere with your ability to produce normal reproductive hormones. In some cases, the buildup results in anovulation, when your body doesn’t release an egg every month, as scheduled. So, taking 10 minutes every day to unwind won’t just manage your stress levels, it might normalize your menstrual cycle too.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Polycystic ovary syndrome (or PCOS) is a hormonal imbalance which, according to WebMD, affects millions of women, and can create major functional problems for your ovaries. If you have PCOS, you have too many male hormones when compared to female hormones; the imbalance causes the development of ovarian cysts, interfering with your fertility. One of the hallmark signs of PCOS (along with excessive body hair growth and high blood sugar levels) is an irregular menstrual cycle. If diagnosed, your doctor might recommend hormonal therapy as a treatment, like taking certain birth control pills.
Gaining or losing a lot of weight
Have you lost or gained a significant amount of weight recently? If so, the dramatic fluctuations might have impacted your pituitary gland, resulting in a hormonal imbalance. This might interfere with your body’s ability to ovulate normally, messing with your cycle. The sudden weight changes – along with the irregular period – might be a sign that something’s up with your thyroid. If you can’t seem to normalize your weight on your own, it’s recommended that you schedule a checkup.
Sometimes, really extreme exercise – often supplemented with malnutrition – could result in athletic amenorrhea or an abnormal absence of menstruation. According to an article published by USC Fertility, if you’re experiencing an amenorrhea due to low body weight and intense exercise, your body thinks it’s going into a “starvation state.” It begins to shut down the organs that aren’t necessary for survival – like those essential for reproduction. Athletic amenorrhea can have long-term health consequences if not treated properly and can put you at heightened risk for infertility, atrophy of the vagina and breast, and osteoporosis.
Endometrial cancer, or uterine cancer, develops when the lining of your uterus begins to grow out of control. According to the American Cancer Society, one of the telltale warning signs of endometrial cancer is unusual vaginal bleeding, occurring in about 90 percent of diagnosed women. Because irregular bleeding doesn’t necessarily indicate endometrial cancer, it can be tough to spot as a symptom. Check to see if you also have pain in your pelvis, if you feel a mass or tumor, or if you’re losing weight without trying. Regardless of the other symptoms, any changes in your cycle should warrant a checkup, even if you come out clear.