Right now, in what feels like day #576 of social distancing, you probably don't even know what the actual date is, and your body might not either. With a global health crisis going on, nothing feels normal, and that might include your body's monthly cycle. It's totally a thing for your period to pull a disappearing act because of stress right now.
Believe it or not, the uterus or even the ovaries aren't calling the shots to make your period happen each month, says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale University. "The control panel is in the brain," she says. It's the hypothalamus at the base of the brain that makes sure your reproductive hormones are in balance each cycle to do their respective jobs, so that you ovulate and menstruate every month, Dr. Minkin explains.
Any major deviation from the norm, including an influx of anxiety (say, from novel coronavirus-related issues like jobs on hold, sick relatives or friends, and being confined to your home), can mess with the delicate balance of hormones that regulate your cycle, and especially those that control ovulation. It might not be a coincidence that ovulation gets put on hold though, Dr. Minkin says. "From a philosophical point of view, maybe nature doesn't want us to get pregnant if we're really stressed."
So...how much of a delay in your period is still considered normal?
“If you have one or two irregular periods it is definitely something to pay attention to,” says Sherry Ross, MD, an ob-gyn at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. A period is considered late if it hasn’t started five or more days after the day you expected it to begin, according to Summit Medical Group. So if your period is, say, 10 days late, definitely take a pregnancy test and check in with your ob-gyn regardless of the results. In general, if your flow has been MIA for a week or more, that's a sign you should take the test and also check in with your gyno to see what might be going on.
But again, you can miss a period and *not* be pregnant. If there's no way you're pregnant and/or your test comes back negative (though, you may be too early in your pregnancy to get a positive result just yet), one of these factors, including all the stress you might be under right now, may be to blame for your late period problems. Then, your next step is definitely calling your doc so they can help you suss out the best solution or treatment for your situation.
Significant stress—such as a divorce, death of a loved one, or, I don't know, the effects of a global pandemic—can definitely disrupt your hormonal balance, creating delayed, irregular, and even heavy periods.
When all of that stress reaches the hypothalamus in the brain, which is supposed to be stimulating a series of hormone production, such as luteinizing hormone (which triggers ovulation), estrogen, and progesterone, that's when things can go off the rails. The buildup of the stress hormone cortisol is also likely a factor in throwing off that balance, too, Dr. Minkin says. You need the estrogen and progesterone to prepare the uterus to receive a fertilized egg, but if those hormones aren't in balance and you don't end up actually ovulating, the whole system is off. Because of that lapse in timing, your period might not come on time either.
"You may skip periods altogether," Dr. Minkin says, "or you may get a heavier period than usual." The flow may be extra heavy because when you skip the ovulation stage, your body isn't making the proper amount of progesterone, which regulates the thinning of the uterine lining, she says. If that doesn't happen, your period is likely to shed more of the lining of the uterus, and therefore be heavier than normal.
2. Major weight loss
“We know excessive exercising, sudden weight changes and being underweight can offset your hormone levels,” says Dr. Ross. “One of these hormones is called leptin and is produced in fatty tissue. Excessive exercising and drastic weight changes can decrease the body fat causing this and other hormones (like estrogen) to drop, contributing to irregular periods.”
Talk to your doctor if you've had a major weight fluctuation recently so she can take that into account while solving your period probs.
3. Excessive exercise
Rigorous exercising, such as training for a marathon or triathlon, can cause physical stress, which may lead to a hormonal imbalance that screws with your period. Sound like you right now? Let your doctor know this information and what your workouts look like recently so she can help gauge whether they might be affecting your flow.
4. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a medical condition caused by an imbalance of reproductive hormones, according to the Office on Women's Health. It affects about 5 to 10 percent of women, says Dr. Ross.
“The hallmark of PCOS is irregular periods, excessive hair growth in places you would rather not see it, multiple cysts on the ovaries seen on a pelvic ultrasound, and infertility,” she says. “Your hormones—estrogen and testosterone—are completely lopsided and irregular."
When you have PCOS, Dr. Ross says your periods can come every two weeks, every three to six months, or even just once a year. If you have any other symptoms of PCOS, take note and share them with your MD.
5. Your birth control
“One of the side effects of a low-estrogen birth control pill is a light or non-existent period,” Dr. Ross says. “For many, this is a welcomed side effect.” The same goes for methods like hormonal IUDs, implants, or shots, since many of those don't contain estrogen at all.
But if you’ve just stopped taking the pill, then take note: Dr. Ross says it might take one to three months to return to your normal cycle. Still, pay attention to what your period looks like when it finally comes back. “It may be once you are off the pill you may find you have an underlying hormonal problem that was masked by taking the birth control pill,” says Dr. Ross.
If that’s the case for you, then it’s time to get in touch with your ob-gyn.
6. Thyroid dysfunction
The thyroid gland, located in your neck, regulates your metabolism, but it also interacts with many other systems in your body to keep things running smoothly. “If you’re dealing with any type of thyroid imbalance, whether it’s hypo- or hyperthyroidism, that can have implications for your period,” says Alyssa Dweck, MD, ob-gyn and co-author of V is for Vagina.
Dr. Ross says other hormonal causes that could lead to irregular periods include Cushing’s disease, poor control of diabetes mellitus, premature ovarian failure, and congenital adrenal hyperplasia (a condition that limits hormone production in the adrenal glands).
If you have any other symptoms, like fatigue or weight loss or gain, bring those up with your doctor, as they can help pinpoint whether a thyroid issue might be to blame. Then, your doctor will likely need to order blood tests and do a workup.
If you took a pregnancy test and it showed you were pregnant, then your period (or something that looks like a period) arrived late and heavy, it could be a miscarriage, says Dr. Ross. Visit your doctor to discuss the bleeding and do an examination and ultrasound to confirm.
8. Certain medications
Whether you’ve been relying on certain OTC medications for an everyday headache or taking a prescription for a particular health issue, Dr. Ross says that some meds could be affecting your menstrual cycle. Aspirin, Coumadin (used to treat and prevent blood clots), and ibuprofen can all affect your cycle.
9. Pelvic inflammatory disease
This infection of the uterus, ovaries and/or fallopian tubes, which typically develops when chlamydia or gonorrhea is left untreated, can disrupt your cycle and cause irregular periods, according to Mayo Clinic.
10. Uterine fibroids
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus, and they can cause heavy periods and super long periods, according to Mayo Clinic. This irregularity could make it seem like you've missed a period, too. If you have any other symptoms, like pelvic pain, frequent urination or even constipation, definitely bring those up with your doctor.
11. Premature menopause
When women under 40 have hormones misfiring in a significant way, they can go through premature menopause, also known as premature ovarian failure. Along with a missed period, signs of this condition include hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness.
But this shouldn't be at the top of your list. "This isn’t very common, so you shouldn’t immediately worry about it," says Dr. Dweck. If your ob-gyn rules out the many other potential causes for missed or late periods and thinks this may be the culprit, they'll clue you in.
Caroline Shannon-Karasikisa writer and mental health advocate based in Pittsburgh, PA. In addition to Women's Health, her work has appeared in several print and online publications, including The Cut, Tonic, Narratively, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and DAME.She is currently writing a collection of essays.
Kristin Canning is the features director at Women's Health, where she assigns, edits and reports long-form features on emerging health research and technology, women's health conditions, psychology, sexuality, mental health, reproductive justice, wellness entrepreneurs, women athletes, and the intersection of health, fitness, and culture for both the magazine and the website. She's worked in health media for seven years, holding prior positions at Health, SELF, and Men's Health. When she's not writing and editing, you can find her running, hiking, biking, dancing, listening to podcasts, or planning her next outdoor adventure.
Mara is a freelance writer and editor specializing in culture, politics, wellness, and the intersection between them, whose print and digital work has appeared in Marie Claire, Women’s Health, Cosmopolitan, Airbnb Mag, Prevention, and more. She’s a Fordham University graduate who also has a degree in Italian Studies, so naturally she’s always daydreaming about focaccia.
Stress. If you're stressed, your menstrual cycle can become longer or shorter, your periods may stop altogether, or they might become more painful. Try to avoid becoming stressed by making sure you have time to relax. Regular exercise, such as running, swimming and yoga, can help you relax.Did I miss my period because of stress or am I pregnant? ›
While stress (physical, emotional, or nutritional) is a common cause for a late period, it is just one of many potential reasons for a delay in menstruation. Pregnancy, hormonal birth control, and health problems like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can also make your period late.How long can you miss your period from stress? ›
Stress can delay your period, but the good news is that stress shouldn't completely stop your period (like, forever). If you've gone more than six weeks (the amount of time it takes to classify a period as fully “missed”) since your last period, it may be time to see a doctor and make sure everything is okay.How do you know if stress is affecting your period? ›
Stress causes your body to go into fight or flight mode—it's just the way we're wired. When you're in this mode, it affects your hormones, which in turn affect your ovulation and, of course, your period. This means you may have periods that are late or even stop completely for several months.How many days late period means pregnancy? ›
A late period is when a woman's menstrual cycle doesn't start as expected, with a normal cycle lasting between 24 to 38 days. When a woman's period is seven days late she may be pregnant although other things may cause a late or skipped period.How soon will a pregnancy test read positive? ›
In many cases, you might get a positive from an at-home test as early as 10 days after conception. For a more accurate result, wait until after you've missed your period to take a test. Remember, if you take a test too soon it could be negative even if you are pregnant.How do you know when your period is coming tomorrow? ›
Looking for signs your period is coming tomorrow? Menstrual cramps are a pretty good indicator. “Period-related stomach cramps are most likely caused by prostaglandins, hormone-like substances that tell your uterine muscles to contract (resulting in the shedding of the uterus lining) during your period,” Dr.Can stress right before period delay it? ›
Yep! Stress can affect your hormones in a way that changes your menstrual cycle. Other things can delay your period, too, like being sick, exercising a lot, having a low body weight, using a hormonal birth control method, or taking certain other medications.What are the signs of hidden pregnancy? ›
With a cryptic pregnancy, the symptoms can be similar to a typical pregnancy, including nausea, vomiting, sore back, fatigue, headaches or migraine, heartburn, or changes in appetite and taste.How do I know I'm not pregnant? ›
There's only one way to find out for sure if you're pregnant: take a pregnancy test.
Some women may begin noticing the first early signs of pregnancy a week or two after conception, while others will start to feel symptoms closer to four or five weeks after conception. Some women may not feel symptoms until their period is noticeably late, or even farther into pregnancy.What discharge comes before period? ›
The white discharge you may see before your period is known as leukorrhea. It's filled with fluid and cells that are being shed from the vagina and may even look slightly yellow at times. This part of your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. It's when the hormone progesterone peaks in your body.What is your discharge like before your period? ›
Discharge before a period tends to be cloudy or white, due to the increased presence of progesterone, a hormone involved in both the menstrual cycle and pregnancy. In other phases of the cycle, when the body has higher levels of estrogen, vaginal discharge tends to be clear and watery.What happens the week before your period? ›
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a combination of symptoms that many women get about a week or two before their period. Most women, over 90%, say they get some premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, headaches, and moodiness.Can stress delay your period and give you pregnancy symptoms? ›
“When under stress, your body produces cortisol. Depending on how your body tolerates stress, the cortisol may lead to delayed or light periods — or no period at all (amenorrhea),” says Dr. Kollikonda. “If stress continues, you can go without a period for a long time.”What does a missed period due to pregnancy feel like? ›
When periods are late, many women will have some mild symptoms similar to early pregnancy, including mild uterine cramping. The breasts may feel heavier and fuller or be tender to the touch. Nausea, constipation, mood swings, dizziness and fatigue may be experienced.What is the symptoms of pregnancy before period miss? ›
Light spotting might be one of the first signs of pregnancy. Known as implantation bleeding, it happens when the fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus — about 10 to 14 days after conception. Implantation bleeding occurs around the time you would expect to have a menstrual period.
Early pregnancy symptoms (at 5 weeks)
You might notice some light bleeding, and think it's your period, but it can also be a sign of implantation bleeding (when an embryo attaches to the lining of the womb). In the 1st trimester, many women feel extreme tiredness.
Lower abdominal pain is normal during pregnancy and is most common between 18 and 24 weeks. Your growing uterus is pulling and straining the muscles that support it. You may feel sharp pains or just a mild pulling sensation. It often occurs when you cough, sneeze, stand up, sit down, roll over, or during sex.Can u discharge if your pregnant? ›
Increased levels of the hormones progesterone can also make you produce more fluid. Increased discharge is a normal part of pregnancy, but it's important to keep an eye on it and tell your doctor or midwife if it changes in any way.
Don't drink too much water, or any liquid, before taking a pregnancy test. Excess fluids can impact the accuracy of the test results, so if your urine is diluted or pale yellow, hold off on taking a test. Diluted urine tends to also have diluted hCG levels which can skew the test results.What is a false period? ›
“They'll still bleed, but often lighter.” That lighter period is called withdrawal bleeding, or a “fake period.” If you have a steady stream of hormones in your body, during your period week (where you might take your placebo pills), your body mimics that drop in estrogen and progesterone, which causes the bleeding.What is finger test in pregnancy? ›
It's possible to check the position and firmness of your cervix at home. You can do this by inserting a finger into your vagina to feel for the cervix. Your middle finger may be the most effective finger to use because it's the longest, but use whichever finger is easiest for you.