Oligomenorrhea is the term for by light or infrequent menstrual periods. It occurs in women of childbearing age. Some variation in menstruation is normal. A woman who regularly goes more than 35 days without menstruating may be diagnosed with oligomenorrhea.
Normal periods occur every 21 to 35 days. The diagnosis changes to amenorrhea after more than 90 days without a period. This is the total absence of a period. The diagnosis also applies to girls that have not begun to menstruate by the age of 15 (U.S. Department of Health, 2009).
Most often, this condition is a side effect of birth control pills. Some women experience lighter and lighter periods for three to six months after they begin to take the contraceptive. Sometimes, periods stop completely.
For the most part, a missed menstrual cycle or light flow does not pose a problem. However, sometimes it can point to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). This condition occurs as the result of a hormonal imbalance. Cysts develop on the ovaries and can affect menstrual cycles.
Oligomenorrhea can occur in women who have diabetes or thyroid problems. It is also common in women with high levels of a protein called prolactin in their blood. Medications such as anti-psychotics and anti-epileptics also can decrease menstruation.
In a 2013 study of college women, 17 percent said that they deliberately deviated from their hormonal contraceptive instructions to intentionally reduce their periods. Half of them admitted they learned how to do this from non-medical sources. This highlights the need for doctors and patients to better communicate when starting a birth control plan (Lakehomer, et al., 2013).
Young women who participate in sports or engage in heavy exercise can develop this condition. Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia can also cause this condition.
Oligomenorrhea is common in adolescent girls. This is because it often takes several years after the first period for cycles to become regular.
See your doctor if you go more than 35 days without a period and are not on birth control medication. If your cycle suddenly changes, always contact your gynecologist.
Some women who skip a period experience a heavier one the next time. This is normal and usually does not indicate a miscarriage.
Adolescent girls should see a doctor if they don't begin their period by 15 years of age.
Oligomenorrhea is usually diagnosed after a review of the patient's menstrual history. Physical exams, blood tests, and ultrasound imaging are sometimes needed.
Oligomenorrhea is not considered serious on its own. Menstrual periods can be adjusted with a change in hormonal contraception use or progestin.
Sometimes an underlying problem, such as an eating disorder, needs to be treated. Other women may need to cut back on their workouts.
Oligomenorrhea is usually not a serious condition, though it may sometimes by a symptom of other problems. However, research on menstrual disorders continues.
Studies are under way to examine the relationship between low body fat and hormonal regulation. Others are studying the impact of hormones and genetics on menstruation.