What is a normal period?

A regular period — or menstrual cycle — is an essential part of a woman's reproductive system. If you test negative for pregnancy seven or more days after a missed period, there may be other medical reasons for your skipped period.
A regular period — or menstrual cycle — is an essential part of a woman's reproductive system. If you test negative for pregnancy seven or more days after a missed period, there may be other medical reasons for your skipped period.

A regular period — or menstrual cycle — is an essential part of a woman's reproductive system. Most women have about 12 periods a year. However, not everyone is the same.

Many women have short, irregular, or late periods. It is common sometimes to have an abnormal cycle, depending on what is going on in your life. When a period does not start, many may assume that they are pregnant. Though common, pregnancy is not the only reason for a late or missed period. Period rhythm can change due to various factors and be extremely late or absent without being pregnant.

A menstrual cycle is your body's monthly preparation for pregnancy. Your uterus grows a new lining, and your ovaries release an egg (ovulation). If the egg is not met by a sperm and fertilized, the lining of the uterus sheds and produces a monthly period.

Most women have a period about every 28 days. But a monthly period is variable depending on the women, with the average being every 21- 40 days. 

There are many things that can affect the regularity of a period. Studies show that stress, obesity, and smoking can affect the number of days in a period cycle.  Also, periods are very irregular during the first years after menstruation begins because hormones fluctuate during puberty.

What if my period is late?

A period is considered late if it fails to arrive within seven days of the expected date. This is the time at which many people take a pregnancy test. If the test is negative, you may choose to wait a few more days. If another significant amount of time goes by with no period and no unusual symptoms, you can test again. If the result is still negative, there are other factors to consider.

If I am not pregnant, what is wrong?

Numerous hormones affect the menstrual cycle. Irregular periods are affected by these hormones and by many modifiable risk factors associated with lifestyle choices. Just keep in mind you can still get pregnant despite not getting your period on time.

After an extended time after a missed period, should I still consider pregnancy?

A visit to your medical provider can determine if you are pregnant — if you do not trust an at-home test. Your provider can run more specific tests, like ultrasound or blood tests. The length of a missed period does not directly correlate with pregnancy. Several conditions cause extended late or even missed periods.

Stress: Emotional stress can cause your period to become shorter, more painful, or stop altogether.

GI issues: Digestive system disorders can cause missed periods. Usually, they will have other symptoms in addition to irregular periods. Some conditions include liver issues, irritable bowel disease, and diabetes.

Weight fluctuations: Extreme weight loss can interrupt or even stop your menstrual cycle. Limiting your daily calorie intake can prevent the creation of the hormones needed for ovulation. Gaining a lot of weight produces additional estrogen, which regulates the reproductive system. It affects how often you have periods, and can cause them to stop.

Breastfeeding: Lots of women do not have regular periods while breastfeeding.

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome: PCOS occurs when the body produces irregular egg sacs in the ovaries, which do not release eggs. Ovulation does not occur, so irregular and missed periods will occur.  PCOS affects about one in every ten women.

Menopause: Periods become irregular and eventually stop as menopause approaches. Menopause is the absence of your period for 12 months. As hormone production decreases, ovulation is less regular, and your periods stop forever.

Studies show that modifiable risk factors that can contribute to late periods include obesity, stress, smoking, and relationship status. Additionally, beginning smoking at an early age and frequent smoking are associated with early menopause. 

You should always visit your medical provider if you think you are pregnant. If you have had several missed periods and a few negative pregnancy tests, you should visit your provider. Though some causes of late and missed periods can be relieved by changes in daily practices, many may require medical intervention. It is crucial to get a diagnosis and be treated early to avoid long-term issues. 

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Medically Reviewed on 12/27/2021
References
SOURCES:

BMC Women's Health: "Factors associated with menstrual cycle irregularity and menopause."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Missed or Irregular Menstrual Periods."

National Health Services of the UK: "Stopped or missed periods."

University of Michigan Health: "Missed or Irregular Periods."