For many, a late period can trigger thoughts of potential pregnancy. But a late period doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re pregnant.
No two menstrual cycles are exactly the same. Healthy cycles can range in length from 21 to 35 days, and they can vary in length from month to month by a few days. Unless you have irregular cycles due to a medical condition, the odds are that you have an idea of when you should expect your next period.
A period is considered late if it hadn’t started within 7 days of when you expected it to start. If you’re worried about pregnancy, most tests will be able to detect it by the time your period is late. If you get a negative pregnancy test after missing a period, and your period is more than a week late, you may want to see your doctor to figure out what’s going on.
If you got a negative pregnancy test result but still haven’t gotten your period, and you start to experience early pregnancy symptoms, consider retaking the test. In some cases, home pregnancy tests can give you a false negative result if it’s too early in the pregnancy to detect hCG in your urine. In these cases, it can take a bit longer to know you’re pregnant after a late period.
Whether you’re busy or just have a lot on your mind, it’s easy to forget when you should expect your period to start. But if you’re not sure when your period was supposed to come, how can you know if it’s late?
A period tracking app like Flo can help. By logging your usual menstrual cycle dates, Flo can predict when you can expect your period. This information can also be very useful if you need to go to the doctor when you miss your period. Having information about your cycle can help your physician understand what’s happening inside your body.
There are lots of causes for a late period that aren’t pregnancy. Some of the most common causes of late periods include:
Hormonal birth control
One of the ways in which hormonal birth control prevents pregnancy is by thinning your uterine lining. This lining, or endometrium, is where an embryo would implant itself if you got pregnant. It’s also the layer that sheds from your uterus during menstruation each month. Since birth control makes this layer thinner, many women experience lighter periods while they’re on it.
In some cases, the endometrium gets so thin that menstruation doesn’t happen. Every woman is different, and as long as you’ve been taking your birth control correctly, missing a period on birth control shouldn’t be a cause for concern. However, you might consider taking a pregnancy test if it will give you peace of mind.
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Stress affects everyone differently. When you experience chronic or extreme stress, such as stress caused by major life events or the death of a loved one, hormones like cortisol can interfere with your menstrual cycle. However, it’s hard to determine exactly how much stress you have to experience for this to occur, since everyone reacts to stress differently.
If you have an underlying health condition, stress could be an added factor that makes your cycles even more irregular. That’s why creating healthy lifestyle habits can help keep both your mind and body in good shape.
Being overweight or underweight can both cause hormonal imbalances since fatty tissue plays a role in synthesizing hormones. Additionally, gaining or losing a significant amount of weight in a short amount of time can affect your hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the gland that controls the release of estrogen. Too much or too little estrogen can cause a late or missed period.
Certain medications, such as certain antipsychotics, can create hormonal imbalances that can cause a late or missed period. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about the possible side effects of any medications you’re prescribed.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that can cause irregular periods because it affects the way your body ovulates. Other symptoms of PCOS include:
- Excessive body hair growth or hirsutism
- Scalp hair loss
- Weight gain
- Mood swings
- Pelvic pain
If you believe that you could be suffering from PCOS, a doctor can give you a proper diagnosis and prescribe the treatment that you need.
There are other conditions that can cause late or missed periods other than pregnancy. These conditions include:
- Thyroid disease
- Change in sleep schedule
- Pituitary tumors
- Dietary changes
- Excessive exercise
Clearly, having a late period doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re pregnant. In some cases, such as when you’re experiencing stress, your cycles could return to normal once you’re feeling better. However, if you’re worried about the underlying cause of your late period, it’s always helpful to take a pregnancy test and go to the doctor if other symptoms arise.