You may well have been there (we all have). You go to the bathroom, pull down your knickers with more anticipation than you had as a child on Christmas Eve and … nothing. Your period should have been here by now.
Aaaaaaand now you’re stressed. Because the first thing that’s probably jumped to mind is that you’re pregnant, and unless you’ve been actively trying this doesn’t always spell good news.
But take a deep breath. While a late period can of course be an indicator of pregnancy, that’s not always the case. In fact, far from it. There are so many other explanations as to why your Aunt Flow hasn’t arrived, so we asked the experts at female health app Clue to explain what they are. So get ready for some peace of mind.
But before we start, it’s also probably worth mentioning that it’s completely normal for the length of your menstrual cycle to vary sometimes – and it may not actually be caused by anything at all. So that’s helpful. Now, back to the possible causes of a tardy period:
Stress not only wreaks havoc on your mental health, it can have a physical impact too. Stress activates a hormonal pathway in the body, encouraging the release of the stress hormone cortisol that works to control the stress response in the body. Cortisol release can suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones, potentially leading to abnormal ovulation, which can disrupt your cycle (giving you one more thing to stress about. D’oh!)
Been jet-setting recently? Because jet-lag can throw off your menstrual cycle too. When you travel across time zones, you suddenly become exposed to light at different times of the day. This can seriously throw off your circadian rhythms, which work in tandem with your menstrual cycle. Research has shown that even a small amount of dim, artificial light triggers hormonal changes in the body. This is especially true if you travel from west to east as it’s harder for your body to adjust to a shorter day.
In the same way that stomach flu or a common cold affects your digestive system and respiration, it is likely to have some impact on your menstrual cycle too. If you notice that your period is a little late, and you were ill the previous month, it’s likely that your illness had some part to play. Sit back and relax and relax and your cycle should short itself out. Eventually.
Any medication that influences hormone production, such as thyroid medication and steroids, can impact the menstrual cycle and cause it to be late as it can affect the delicate balance of all hormones within the body. Any change in the levels of your reproductive hormones can result in an irregular period.
Unless you’re tracking your period, it’s likely that you don’t notice if it’s a day or two out. The typical cycle is 28 days long, but many women’s cycles are actually longer or shorter than this, and a lot of women unknowingly have slightly irregular cycles. For that reason, if your period is ‘early’ the previous month, you may think it’s ‘late’ the following month. Just another way our bodies are trying to mess with us.
6 Change in routine
Any change to your regular routine can impact your cycle and throw it off until either your routine returns to normal, or your body becomes accustomed to the change. If your sleeping pattern has been alter,or if you have undergone a significant lifestyle change, such as becoming a vegan or significantly changing your diet, these lifestyle factors can have an impact on your menstrual cycle as they affect the balance of your hormones.
7 Excessive exercise
Regular, moderate exercise is recommended as a treatment strategy for easing painful and negative symptoms of the cycle. However, extreme exercise can lead to menstrual cycle irregularities. The most severe example is loss of the period (clinically known as amenorrhea) in competitive or Olympic athletes. A recent study also showed that frequent intense exercise may be a bigger source of cycle irregularity than previously thought.
8 Weight loss or gain
Any drastic or sudden change to your weight can impact your ovulation and throw it off course. Severely restricting the amount of kilojoules you consume can cause the reproductive hormones to stop, while weight gain can cause oestrogen to rise, both of which can affect the menstrual cycle.
Consider your mind fully put at rest (or, you know, go and buy yourself a pregnancy test).
This article was originally published on Cosmopolitan.co.uk.