If you're sexually active and miss a period, the first thought that comes to mind probably involves a trip the drugstore for a pregnancy test, ASAP. But there are other factors that can mess with your menstrual cycle.
Stress, for example, can be the culprit behind a late period, as can travel (which can sometimes be synonymous with stress) [source: WebMD]. A change in weight can affect a woman's period, and so can illness and certain medications. Apparently, our periods are creatures of habit.
Some possible causes of an abnormal cycle, however, are medical conditions that need to be addressed.
- Endometriosis is a case of misplaced cells. Ones that should be in a woman's uterus grow on places like the bowel, fallopian tubes and ovaries instead. They respond to hormones by swelling and getting thicker, just like the ones that make up the uterine lining -- but they don't get shed. They're just stuck, often making periods painful.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS, is caused by a woman's hormones being out of whack. Overproduction of androgens (misleadingly known as the male sex hormones), can cause women with PCOS to get extra hair on their face, struggle with acne and what looks like male pattern baldness, and gain weight around the waist.
- Uterine fibroids are growths where you don't want them. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Women's Health, they can range in size from an apple seed to a grapefruit [source: WomensHealth.gov]. These noncancerous tumors can cause fullness and pressure in the abdomen, and women with fibroids often have very heavy, painful periods.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID, is an infection of the female reproductive system often caused by bacteria from STIs like chlamydia. While some women have no symptoms at all, it can result in amenorrhea or irregular periods, along with abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal discharge and pain during sex.
- Primary ovarian insufficiency is more commonly known by its other, more descriptive name: premature ovarian failure. Ovaries of women under the age of 40 should be producing eggs and estrogen. In this instance, they aren't doing their job.
Now that we know what can go wrong with a woman's menstrual cycle, let's find out how these conditions can affect fertility.