What is oligomenorrhea?

Oligomenorrhea is a condition in which you have infrequent menstrual periods. It occurs in women of childbearing age. Some variation in menstruation is normal, but a woman who regularly goes more than 35 days without menstruating 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. Half of them said they learned how to do this from nonmedical sources. This highlights the need for doctors and patients to communicate better when patients start a birth control plan.

See your doctor if you go more than 35 days without a period and aren’t on birth control medication. If your cycle suddenly changes, contact your gynecologist.

Some women who skip a period may experience a heavier one the next time. This can be normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate a miscarriage.

Oligomenorrhea has various causes:

  • Most often, this condition is a side effect of hormonal birth control. Some women experience lighter and lighter periods for three to six months after they begin taking the birth control. Sometimes, their periods stop completely.
  • 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 and perimenopausal women due to fluctuating hormone levels.
  • Oligomenorrhea can also occur in women who have diabetes or thyroid problems.
  • It’s also common in women with high levels of a protein called prolactin in their blood. Medications, such as antipsychotics and anti-epileptics, can decrease menstruation.

It’s important to make sure that the cause of a delayed menstrual cycle isn’t pregnancy.

Oligomenorrhea is usually diagnosed after a review of your menstrual history. Physical exams, blood tests, and ultrasound imaging may be necessary as well.

For the most part, a missed menstrual cycle or light flow doesn’t pose a problem, but it can sometimes indicate the presence of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). The exact cause of PCOS in unknown, but a combination of factors may include insulin resistance, elevated levels of certain hormones, and irregular menstrual cycles.

Oligomenorrhea isn’t serious on its own. Menstrual periods can be adjusted with a change in hormonal birth control use or progestin.

Sometimes, oligomenorrhea can indicate another underlying problem, such as an eating disorder, which needs to be treated. Other women may need to cut back on working out.

Oligomenorrhea usually isn’t a serious condition, but it may sometimes be a symptom of other problems. Research on menstrual disorders continues. In particular, researchers are studying the role of genetics in menstruation and the relationship between low body fat and hormonal regulation.

Having less than four menstrual cycles per year for years that occurs naturally and without medication, such as birth control pills, can increase the risk of endometrial hyperplasia and endometrial cancer.

If you regularly go without a period for more than 35 days, see your doctor.