No one exactly looks forward to getting it, but a late or missed period can sometimes stress you out more even more than when it arrives on time.

And for good reason. Not only is a late period a possible sign of pregnancy (gulp), but it signals something — whether it’s stress, illness, or a medication — is affecting the natural balance of estrogen and progesterone in your body.

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“It’s a barometer of health,” explains Dr. Sherry A. Ross, an OB/GYN and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period. “When your periods are regular and monthly, that speaks volumes to healthcare providers. When you come in and say, ‘Yeah, my period comes once a month,’ we know on a very limited basis your body is in tune.”

    Contact your healthcare provider if your delayed periods continue for more than 2-3 months. Better yet, use a calendar or a period tracker app on your phone so you can show them exactly what’s going on. But if you just noticed that your anticipated day came and went, here are a few of the factors that might be at play:

    1. Birth Control

    If you’re using a hormonal birth control method, a late, light, or nonexistent period is likely no cause for concern. “It’s an expected side effect,” Dr. Ross reassures. That’s actually one of the upsides — besides pregnancy prevention — of progestin IUDs like Mirena. You can also purposefully delay a period using the pill, but the Mayo Clinic advises consulting with your doctor first before postponing menstruation.

    2. Other Medications

    Likewise, any prescriptions that affect your hormones can disrupt the regularity of your periods. Some examples include:

    • thyroid medication
    • steroids
    • antipsychotics

      Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about the side effects of any medication you’re taking.

      3. Intense Exercise

      If you’ve recently started training for a marathon or triathlon, kudos to you on setting a major goal. Just don’t underestimate the impact that such a strenuous activity can have on your body. The stress can lead to a hormonal imbalance and space your periods further apart. While a few weeks’ delay is possible, watch out for the “3-month marker” when it comes to exercise or other reasons besides medication for a missed period.

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      “A late period is different than no period,” says Dr. Ross. “Anything beyond 3 months can put you at more risk for osteoporosis, for example, and other medical problems. There is that balance that’s needed and expected, so it’s not okay to not have a period for 6 months unless you’re on the pill.”

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      4. Stress

      Similarly, going through tough times — such a divorce or death of a loved one — takes a physical toll on our bodies, too. Such an abrupt and impactful change can disrupt your hormonal balance, creating delayed and irregular periods. Your doctor will likely conduct a few tests to rule out other causes, but as long as your body can get back on track in a reasonable amount of time (probably a few months), there’s no reason to feel even more stressed about your period in addition to what else you’ve got going on.

      5. Extreme Weight Changes

      “Specific foods don’t tend to affect your period but not eating a healthy diet or the right amount of calories for extended periods of time will make your late and less frequent,” says Dr. Ross.

      That’s because losing a lot of weight can decrease estrogen production — to the point of making your periods lighter or nonexistent. On the flip side, an increase in body fat can also alter your estrogen levels, causing a late period.

      6. International Travel

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      Jet lag from a big trip might lead to more than just tossing and turning at night. The change in melatonin production — a.k.a. the hormone that regulates sleepiness — can also delay a period, according to Dr. Ross.

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      7. Drinking

      The occasional glass of wine won’t affect your period, but excessive, heavy alcohol use can increase the levels of estrogen-disrupting hormones enough so to cause late and irregular periods. See a healthcare provider if you feel that you sometimes drink too much alcohol, your drinking is causing problems, or your family is concerned about your drinking, advises the Mayo Clinic.

      8. Chronic Illness

      A missed or late period can signal an underlying condition, which is why it’s important to touch base with an MD to determine what’s exactly going on. Some illnesses can make your period late or disappear altogether, such as:

        9. Pregnancy

        Yep, unless you’ve abstained from sex with a male partner, there’s a chance you might be pregnant. Dr. Ross says the first test she does for any patient with a missed period is a pregnancy test — even if they use birth control.

        The pill works about 91% of the time when you factor in the potential for missing a day. Even IUDs have a 99% — not 100% — effectiveness rate. “I’ve seen it a couple times in my practice,” she says. “It always surprises me, but it happens.”

        Caroline Picard
        Associate Editor As Associate Editor, Caroline has covered health, home, celebrity, entertainment, and other lifestyle news since joining the Good Housekeeping staff in 2015.

        https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/health/wellness/a25347710/late-period-not-pregnant/

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