As an adult female, your menstrual flow is like an annoying friend that you have an awkward date with every month.
As annoying as this friend is, when it fails to show up, your mind starts to race at the possibilities.
Most women have missed or late periods at some point in their lives. Pregnancy is often one of the first things that comes to mind.
But pregnancy is not the only cause of a late or missed period.
While some causes of a late or missed period are harmless, others are serious conditions that require medical intervention.
In this article, we discuss various causes of late/missed periods, tell you when a period can be considered late, and answer some frequently asked questions.
13 reasons your period is delayed
The normal menstrual cycle is 23 to 35 days long. Most women have an average of 28 days in their cycle.
The day your period starts is counted as cycle day 1, and the average duration of flow is three to seven days.
Most people have slight variations in their cycles, which is considered normal. So your period may be late for a day or two.
This is usually not a cause for concern. However, if your period is delayed for several days to weeks, something may be causing it. We discuss some possible causes below:
Missing your period is one of the first noticeable signs of pregnancy. During each menstrual cycle, the inner lining of your uterus (womb) thickens in preparation for pregnancy. If fertilization does not take place, this lining is shed as menstruation.
If fertilization does occur, this thickened lining is maintained for the fertilized egg to implant itself.
This sometimes leads to implantation bleeding, a type of vaginal bleeding that women often mistake for menstrual bleeding.
You can potentially get pregnant at any point during your menstrual cycle if you have unprotected sex.
If you are sexually active, doing a pregnancy test is one of the first steps to take in case of a missed period.
If the test turns out positive, contact your healthcare provider to discuss the next steps.
2) Diet and strenuous exercise
If the calories you get from your diet are lacking for any reason, your period may become irregular or stop entirely.
Your body stops your period in this case because you don’t have enough resources to support a pregnancy.
Excessive exercise can also affect your period because you may burn up more calories than you take in. This is common in athletes who engage in a lot of strenuous exercise.
The effects of diet and exercise on your menstrual cycle are usually temporary. Your period should go back to normal if you decrease the intensity of the physical activity or take in more calories.
3) Weight loss
Extreme weight loss and anorexia can cause a part of your brain called the hypothalamus to decrease the production of certain hormones. This leads to your period ceasing or becoming irregular.
4) Weight gain
Gaining a significant amount of weight can also affect your period. Studies have shown that women who are obese are at a higher risk of having irregular periods than those with average body weight.
Obesity may also be a sign of an underlying condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
Stress can cause a delay in getting your period because it can affect the production of gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH).
GnRH is a hormone produced by the hypothalamus that controls ovulation and the menstrual cycle.
This hormone is not affected by little amounts of stress like what you experience when you have a bad day.
It requires higher levels of stress, such as a wedding, divorce, the death of a family member or loved one, a toxic work environment, and so on.
Everyone responds to stress differently. So, not everyone will miss a period as a result of the same stressor.
Stress is inevitable. This is why it is important to learn stress management techniques to reduce its effects on your body.
The effect of stress is usually temporary, and your period may normalize when the stressor is removed or when you effectively manage the stress.
Hormonal birth control can delay your period or cause it to cease altogether. Contraceptives contain hormones such as estrogen and progesterone that help to prevent pregnancy.
The pill may cause delayed menses in some people in the first few months they start taking it.
Other hormonal birth control methods like implants, intrauterine devices (IUD), and shots may also cause you to stop seeing your period. This is a normal side effect of these drugs.
7) Perimenopause or menopause
Perimenopause is a natural process in which a woman’s ovaries gradually stop releasing eggs for ovulation.
It usually starts around 40 to 44 years of age. During this period, there are changes in the regularity of the menstrual cycle.
Perimenopause can last for years before you finally stop having periods. The period when you have stopped ovulating and menstruating is menopause.
Menopause occurs at an average age of 51 years but can vary among women. Some women experience menopause early (even before they turn 40). This is called premature ovarian failure.
The irregular or missed periods of perimenopausal or menopausal women may be accompanied by some of the following symptoms:
- Hot flushes
- Mood swings
- Night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Decreased libido
8-10) Underlying chronic medical condition
Having a chronic medical condition can cause delays in your period in several ways.
Being ill puts your body through stress and may reduce your caloric intake by causing you to have a decreased appetite.
Certain chronic conditions can also cause menstrual irregularities because of their effects on your hormones. These include:
PCOS is a group of symptoms that affects women in the reproductive age group. It can cause affected women to experience late or no periods because of a disbalance in their hormones.
Thyroid conditions are diseases that arise from abnormalities in the thyroid gland, a butterfly-shaped gland found at the front part of your neck.
The thyroid is responsible for regulating a lot of functions in the body, the menstrual cycle included.
Both hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone) and hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormones) can cause irregular menses.
People who have diabetes (both type 1 and 2) can experience late or missed periods if their blood sugar levels are not well controlled.
Diabetes affects the blood vessels by causing them to age earlier, which may cause the ovaries to age early as well.
Some drugs can cause your period to be late or missed. Examples include:
- Some cancer medicines
You may have irregular periods while breastfeeding, or your period may stop coming. The duration of this varies.
Some people even use the lack of periods while breastfeeding as a form of contraception. However, this method is not reliable.
If you do not want another child soon after delivery, speak to your healthcare provider about a more reliable form of contraception.
13) Newly started periods
The first period a girl gets is called menarche. A young woman who has just recently started seeing her period may have irregular or missed periods for months before it becomes normal.
Also, women whose periods have resumed after a long interval of not seeing their period can experience late or missed periods.
Signs of period coming late
There is an increased level of the hormone progesterone during the premenstrual period. This can lead to some women experiencing mild symptoms before a late period.
Symptoms your period will be late include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Heavier and/or tender breasts
- Nausea, fatigue, dizziness
- Mood swings
Some women experience similar symptoms during early pregnancy because there is an increased level of progesterone – just like during the premenstrual period.
So, if you are sexually active and experience the above symptoms along with a delayed period, you should take a pregnancy test to rule out pregnancy.
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When is a period considered late?
It is important to understand your menstrual cycle’s baseline. Important things to know include:
- The average length of your cycle.
- Average number of days you bleed.
- Pain and other symptoms you experience towards and during your periods.
If you don’t know your baseline, it will be difficult to know whether your period is late or not.
There are many apps available to help you keep track of your menstrual cycle. Simply filling out information on a calendar is another easy way to keep track.
If you have not been keeping track of your periods in the past, but you think it is late, take a calendar and see if you can remember the first day your last period started.
Thinking about what events occurred when it started may help you remember. Maybe you were out visiting a friend that day, or perhaps you went shopping.
It’ll be great if you can remember the first day of your period for the last three periods. Using this, you can count the number of days between the first day of one period to the first day of the next period.
That way, you can determine the length of your menstrual cycle and whether or not your period is late.
Once you do not get your period for a week (seven days), it is considered late. If you have not seen your period in 6 weeks, then it is considered a missed period.
How late can a period be if you are not pregnant?
If you do not get your period for seven days or more after you were expecting it, then it is late, especially if this is unusual for you.
Missing your period does not always mean you are pregnant. Several other things can cause a late period, as we discussed above.
How late can a period be on birth control?
There are different types of birth control, and everyone reacts to them differently. You can have irregular periods or even completely stop seeing your period with some forms of birth control.
If you are concerned about menstrual changes you’ve noticed while using birth control, be sure to speak with your doctor.
Can sex make your period come late?
Sex on its own cannot make you have a late period. Pregnancy from unprotected sex, however, can cause a missed period.
Can taking plan B make your period late?
If you took emergency contraception, your period may come on time, early, or late. If your period is delayed, it should be no later than a week.
If it is delayed for two to four weeks, you should take a pregnancy test.
Is it normal to be late on your period?
Late periods for a day or two are normal every once in a while and are usually nothing to worry about.
However, if it happens frequently to the point that you can no longer predict your period, you should talk to a doctor.
My period is late, but I have a negative pregnancy test
Pregnancy is not the only cause of a late period. There are several other factors, such as weight gain or loss, stress, chronic diseases, and the use of birth control or certain medications.
If you have a negative pregnancy test after missing a period, contact your healthcare provider.
There are several reasons why a woman can have a late period or miss it entirely. The most common culprit is pregnancy, but it is not the only cause.
A delayed or missed period may be a sign that something is wrong with your body. It could result from stress, excessive exercise, weight gain or loss, and birth control. It could also result from illnesses such as PCOS, diabetes, or thyroid problems.
Missing your period for a few days is usually not a cause for concern. However, if you have not seen your period for seven days or more, it may be time to take a pregnancy test.
If it is negative, you should contact your healthcare provider for further investigations to determine the cause.