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What is Secondary Amenorrhea?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 August 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Secondary amenorrhea is the cessation of menstrual periods in someone who has previously menstruated. The most common cause of secondary amenorrhea is pregnancy, but there are a number of other potential causes which can be explored as well. Women who experience an abrupt cessation in menstrual periods should definitely consult a gynecologist to get an exam and workup to explore possible reasons for the break in menstruation.

Some people define secondary amenorrhea as three months or more without a menstrual period, while others define it as six months or more without a period for women with a history of regular menstruation, and 12 months or more without a period for women with a history of irregular periods. However one defines it, secondary amenorrhea differs from primary amenorrhea, in which a woman has not started menstruating by the age of 16. Primary amenorrhea is a related but different issue with its own causes.

Since pregnancy is the most common cause for this symptom, women who are experiencing secondary amenorrhea will usually be asked about their sexual history and told to take a pregnancy test. If pregnancy is not the issue, some other potential causes include: gynecological cancers, hormone imbalances, polycystic ovary disease, low body weight, transition into menopause, certain medications, some hormonal birth control, and stress. Various tests and examinations can be used to explore these possible causes.

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It is important to be aware that secondary amenorrhea is a symptom, not a diagnosis. When a woman presents with this symptom, a doctor will conduct an interview and some tests to find out why it is happening. Diagnosis of the underlying cause is important because it may require treatment. Once the cause has been determined, a doctor can present the patient with some treatment options, and hopefully treatment will resolve the symptom as well as the condition causing it.

In some cases, secondary amenorrhea may be a welcome sign. For women who are trying to get pregnant, several missed periods are a very good sign. Likewise, some types of hormonal birth control are actually specifically formulated to allow women to skip periods, in which case secondary amenorrhea is not a cause for concern because it is being deliberately induced. When there is no obvious cause, however, secondary amenorrhea can be a worrisome symptom of underlying disease and rapid identification and medical treatment can make a big difference in the outcome for the patient.

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