Hypothalamic Amenorrhea: Why Does It Happen?
Women who undergo severe weight loss routines or exercise excessively may develop hypothalamic amenorrhea. It can also be caused by chronic stress.
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is one of the most surprising health abnormalities because it often occurs in women with an apparently healthy lifestyle. Of course, it can also affect any woman.
According to some estimates, up to 30% of women may have hypothalamic amenorrhea at some point in their lives. Many of them don’t even realize it until they decide to get pregnant. At that point, they stop taking birth control pills but can’t get their period again.
In general, hypothalamic amenorrhea is a disease that doctors can successfully treat, at least in most cases. You can overcome this condition quite simply. However, you should never underestimate any abnormality in your body.
What is hypothalamic amenorrhea?
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a common condition. It’s a disease characterized by the absence of menstruation in women of childbearing age. It’s caused by an abnormality in the hypothalamus, which is a part of the brain that controls the functioning of the nervous system and the pituitary gland.
Specialists consider it to be amenorrhea when a woman has no menstrual period for three months or more in a row; also, when a girl is 15 years old and hasn’t started menstruating. Under normal conditions, menstruation should only stop during pregnancy or menopause.
Why does it happen?
Hypothalamic amenorrhea occurs when the hypothalamus very slowly releases or stops releasing gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This is the chemical in charge of starting the menstrual cycle. There are three main reasons why it happens:
- Extreme weight loss
- Excessive exercise
Hypothalamic amenorrhea is a physiological response to these events. Both stress, weight loss, and excessive exercise cause the hypothalamus to increase the production of corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH).
This, in turn, leads to an increase in the adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which is produced in the pituitary gland, and in cortisol, which is produced in the adrenal glands. All of these changes inhibit GnRH production in the hypothalamus and stop the menstrual cycle.
The effects on the body
The first effect of hypothalamic amenorrhea on the body is obviously the impossibility, or great difficulty, of conceiving children. However, the GnRH hormone not only plays the role of starting the menstrual cycle, but it also participates in other functions.
Gonadotropin-releasing hormone or GnRH stimulates the release of other essential hormones for ovulation to occur:
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
Obviously, if there’s no ovulation, there’s also no fertility. If a woman with this condition becomes pregnant, there’s an increased risk of abortion or premature delivery.
When hypothalamic amenorrhea occurs at a very young age, there may be no correct development of secondary sexual characteristics. Therefore, a woman can have hair on her chest or face and have a lower tone of voice, for example.
Likewise, the hypothalamus and GnRH also contribute to regulating sleep, hunger, and body temperature. For this reason, hypothalamic amenorrhea is often accompanied by exhaustion, insomnia, decreased sexual desire, and depression.
You might be interested in: Causes of Female Sexual Dysfunction
Things to consider about hypothalamic amenorrhea
Hypothalamic amenorrhea has been associated with loss of bone mass. This is why women with it are more likely to develop osteoporosis and other bone problems. There’s also an increased risk of heart and digestive problems.
Knowing the factors that trigger this condition, you should note the following:
- Exercise: this is harmful when it combines a high intensity in the activity with not enough energy contribution for that level.
- Weight loss: this is a problem when losing more than 5 kilograms (12 pounds) in a short time and / or having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 20 or less. We don’t recommend a very strict diet.
- Stress: if you have chronic stress, it becomes a risk factor. Sometimes the body interprets the excessive demand of physical exercise as a stress factor.
Women who have a family history of hypothalamic amenorrhea are also known to be more likely to develop this condition. Thus, genetics also plays a role in this problem.
However, if you keep these risk factors in mind, you can prevent and treat the problem in most cases. If you have any suspicions, don’t hesitate to consult a specialist and follow their instructions.