Oligomenorrhea is a condition in which you have extremely infrequent menstrual periods. It usually occurs in women of childbearing age. Some variation in menstruation is normal, but a woman who regularly goes more than 35 days without having a period may be diagnosed with oligomenorrhea. Periods usually occur every 21 to 35 days. The diagnosis changes to oligomenorrhea after more than 90 days without a period. In a 2013 study of college women, 17 percent said they deliberately deviated from their hormonal birth control instructions to intentionally reduce their periods. Interestingly enough, half of them said they learned how to do this from nonmedical sources. This emphasizes the need for doctors and patients to communicate better when patients start a birth control plan.
Oligomenorrhea is often caused by immaturity or lack of synchronization between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and ovaries. The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that controls body temperature, cellular metabolism, and such basic functions as appetite for food, the sleep/wake cycle, and reproduction. The hypothalamus also secretes hormones that regulate the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is then stimulated to produce hormones that affect growth and reproduction. At the beginning and end of a woman's reproductive life, some of these hormone messages may not be synchronized, resulting in menstrual irregularities.
Oligomenorrhea is thought to be caused by inappropriate levels of both female and male hormones. Male hormones are produced in small quantities by all women, but in women with PCOS, levels of male hormone are higher than in other women. In athletes, models, actresses, dancers, and women with anorexia nervosa, oligomenorrhea occurs because body fat drops too low compared to weight. Emotional stress related to performance anxiety may also be a factor in oligomenorrhea.
What are the Symptoms?
Going more than 35 days without having a period and without being on birth control medication is the primary symptom of Oligomenorrhea. There can aslo be sudden changes in the menstrual cycle in Oligomenorrhea. There are some women who may skip a period and experience a heavier period the next time. There is no need to worry as this is quite normal and is not necessarily an indication of miscarriage. Other symptoms of Oligomenorrhea consist of pain, discomfort, heavy menstrual bleeding, and a feeling of heaviness in between menstrual cycles.
Professional athletes, models, and dancers are most prone to oligomenorrhea due to their intense strenuous physical training and their strict diet. Since they have to keep their weight down for their profession, they become subject to menstrual irregularities. Women and girls who have poor nutrition habits, suffer with eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or exercise excessively are also at risk.
In adolescents and women near menopause, oligomenorrhea usually needs no treatment. For some athletes, changes in training routines and eating habits may be enough to return the woman to a regular menstrual cycle. Most patients suffering from oligomenorrhea are treated with birth control pills. Other women, including those with PCOS, are treated with hormones. Prescribed hormones depend on which hormones are deficient or out of balance. When oligomenorrhea is associated with an eating disorder or the female athlete triad, the underlying condition must be treated. Female athletes may require physical therapy or rehabilitation as well.
Oligomenorrhea usually isn’t a serious condition, but it may sometimes be a symptom of other problems. Researchers are studying the role of genetics in menstruation and the relationship between low body fat and hormonal regulation. If you regularly go without a period for more than 35 days, make sure to see your doctor.