If you’re sexually active, your first instinct is no doubt to race down to the pharmacy for a pregnancy test. However, there are several other reasons why your menstrual cycle has skipped a beat.
Missing a period can be stressful, but it is quite common.
While it’s easy to assume that a late period indicates pregnancy, that’s not always the case. There are actually many reasons why your cycle might be off schedule – some are harmless, while others may require medical attention. Understanding them is an important step towards maintaining your reproductive health and overall wellbeing.
Ahead, we’ll run through some of the most common reasons why your period could be late.
Like what you see? Sign up to our bodyandsoul.com.au newsletter for more stories like this.
“The first thing we exclude with a late period is pregnancy,” says Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor, a GP at Kin Fertility. “This is especially important if someone is trying for a baby, if they have had unprotected sex, or if they’ve been inconsistent with taking their contraceptive pill. This can be checked with an at-home urine pregnancy test, or by doing a urine or blood test with your GP.”
Certain medications can cause changes in your cycle, particularly hormonal contraceptives, which for some people, can lead to late or irregular periods, or even stop them altogether.
“This can be done deliberately with the combined oral contraceptive pill, but it can also happen even when you aren’t intentionally trying to skip periods, particularly when you’ve been taking the pill for a while. Provided you have been taking your pill regularly, this isn’t dangerous, and your period will return to what’s normal for you when you stop the pill,” Dr Wallace-Hor clarifies.
“When starting a new contraceptive, it’s important to discuss with your doctor what you can expect in terms of changes to your period, and how long it may take to return to “your normal” if you stop using that contraceptive,” she adds.
Other drugs like antidepressants, antipsychotics, anti-epilepsy medications and chemotherapy can also mess with your cycle.
“Certain medical conditions can impact the regularity of your menstrual cycle, including polycystic ovarian syndrome, thyroid disorders, and diabetes. Irregular periods are also common during the menopause transition,” Dr Wallace-Hor explains.
“Weight changes, nutritional deficiencies (such as from disordered eating or untreated coeliac disease), emotional stress, and stress caused by illness and excessive exercise can also cause late or irregular periods.”
What should you do if your period is late?
If you struggle with irregular periods, Dr Wallace-Hor recommends you seek medical help for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because it can be a symptom of a more serious health condition, and the earlier you get a diagnosis, the better.
And secondly, because there is treatment. “Irregular periods can be managed by treating any underlying medical conditions or causes, or by regulating them with hormonal contraception. Medication can also be used to treat any associated symptoms like painful or heavy periods.”
Lifestyle changes like working out regularly, reducing stress, taking the right supplements (with the advice of your GP or health professional), ditching cigarettes and avoiding alcohol can help as well.
An irregular menstrual cycle isn’t something you have to live with. Speak with your doctor and get it back on track.