What is amenorrhea?
Amenorrhea is known as the absence of menstrual periods which is often brought about through disruption in the reproduction system and is common among high performing athletes. This condition occurs within 3-5% of those who menstruate and can often cause distress to the person experiencing it and possible additional health problems.
Consistently missing your periods is not normal.
There are two types of amenorrhea, known as primary and secondary which are vastly different and often have varying causes.
Primary amenorrhea is often diagnosed from two determining factors:
- When menstruation hasn’t commenced by 14 years of age, paired with no signs of secondary sex characteristics (e.g., pubic hair and breast development).
- Menstruation hasn’t begun by 16 years of age despite sexual development being evident.
Secondary amenorrhea is more common in elite athletes and occurs following the absence of three or more consecutive menstrual cycles where there is no pregnancy or breastfeeding evident in those who have previously had menstrual cycles.
What causes amenorrhea?
There is an array of potential causes for amenorrhea which may include the following:
- Birth control use
- Either low weight or being underweight
- High stress levels
- Eating disorders such as anorexia and/or bulimia
- Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport (RED-S)
- PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome)
- Genetic conditions i.e., Turners Syndrome
- Pituitary gland issues
- Defects in the genital tract
- Premature ovarian failure
- Use of antidepressants and other mood stabilising medications
- Weight gain
It’s important to note that even when one or several of the above causes are present, it may not cause an onset of amenorrhea, but it is something to be aware of and seek medical advice where necessary.
How is amenorrhea treated?
While primary amenorrhea may resolve itself over time, your doctor will be able to assist you in this endeavour and explore options to treat secondary amenorrhea. Some treatment options may include but are not limited to:
- Hormonal therapy
- Referral to a nutritionist to adjust diet and achieve a healthy weight
- Stress management such as engagement in psychology and complementary therapies like yoga and meditation
- Implementing an appropriate exercise routine in the case of overexercising
- Surgery and more invasive treatments are sometimes required in certain cases.
If you have concerns about the absence of your menstrual cycle, we encourage you to speak with your doctor.
When should I seek medical advice about amenorrhea?
If you have concerns about amenorrhea impacting your life and athletic performance, we encourage you to get in touch with us. We have a network of specialised General Practitioners, gynaecologists and fertility specialists across Australia who will be more than happy to speak with you and discuss your individual circumstances.
With over 50 dedicated specialists across 70 consulting locations throughout the country, our friendly staff can help you choose the right medical professional to guide you and help you achieve your sporting goals. Contact us now.