How many periods in a row can you miss from stress?

Well in my case it looks like five.

“It has been known for years that the menstrual cycle can become dis-regulated when a great deal of stress is present,” says Marcelle Pick, MSN, OB/GYN, NP, in private practice and co-founder of Women to Women Health Center, and author of the book, “Is It Me or My Hormones?”

But ask yourself why ongoing stress would cause only one missed period. It’ll likely be several in a row.

Before I missed the five periods, I had predicted I’d miss at least two in a row. I made this prediction shortly after a stress bomb was dropped on me.

The previous year I had missed two periods in a row, courtesy of ongoing stress involving my mother’s illness. She recovered fully.

Almost a year later I took my mother to the ER, where I was told she needed quintuple bypass surgery with mitral valve replacement; a massive heart attack was imminent without the surgery; the surgery had a 15 to 20 percent mortality rate.

The first day of my last period had been Sept. 28. My mother’s surgery was overnight, October 9 through 10. I began moving my things into my parents’ house.

I just knew I’d be missing at least two periods due to this unspeakable stress. And sure enough, my next period never came.

“This happens because with increased stress, cortisol levels can become very high,” says Pick. Cortisol is the so-called stress hormone.

My mother was having fainting spells at the hospital but she was discharged. I took her to the ER several days later; she was readmitted.

After the second discharge, it was back to the ER; she was readmitted again. Discharged.

Then again to the ER, admitted once more, with a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Meanwhile, she was blacking out several times a day due to orthostatic hypotension.

Because she was non-compliant with managing this condition, I couldn’t let her out of my sight or she’d black out while upright and risk a serious fall.

Where was my father in all this? Nine days before my mother’s surgery, he had back surgery and was in no condition to oversee his wife. He was barred from driving for a month.

This meant while my mother was in the ICU (where she had atrial fibrillation and mild kidney failure), I drove to the hospital three times a day (to be present during all three “shifts” of visiting hours).

One-way to the hospital took 40 minutes. (I put my homebased work on hold).

In the weeks following the surgery there were complaints of chest pain and shortness of breath: stress, stress galore, enough to miss several periods over.

Pick explains, “With high cortisol can come thyroid dysfunction, as the cortisol can block T4 to T3 conversion, making the T3 an inactive form which in turn can affect the cycle — and also, continued stress causes adrenal dysfunction which can cause the hormone progesterone to be low — and the cycle can be missed altogether or become irregular.”

My father’s condition never improved (more stress), so the weight of never letting my mother out of my sight fell virtually all on me, which meant every time she got out of a chair, I had to promptly get right behind her.

Dozens of times she passed out and I had to lower her to the floor, including several times in public.

My mother refused to comply to doctors’ treatment recommendations, which caused me ongoing, relentless stress: fear of my mother suffering a life-threatening fall.

She eventually fell when I wasn’t present (after she talked my father into allowing her to resume sleeping with him; prior she had been sleeping downstairs where I was sleeping so that I could escort her overnight several times to the bathroom).

My father slept through her exiting the bed and she hit her head on the bathtub (visible head injury).

A CAT scan at the ER was normal, but I feared there’d be a slow blood leak over the next several weeks.

More battles ensued between my father and me about how my mother should sleep downstairs so I could escort her overnight, but my father again gave in to my mother’s insistence that she sleep with him.

Again she passed out in their bathroom and fell, but no trip to the ER (no visible head injury).

Six weeks after the first fall, my mother awakened with an alarming headache and stroke-like symptoms in her legs.

Another trip to the ER: The CAT scan revealed bleeding in the brain (chronic subdural hematoma).

By this point I had missed four periods in a row.

She had to have brain surgery to drain the blood. The symptoms cleared up after, but soon after discharge my mother began experiencing increasing headaches, then mental fogginess and dysfunction of her left hand.

Another CAT scan showed a recurrence of the chronic subdural hematoma: another hospital admission, another brain surgery. Meanwhile my father had had his coronary calcium score taken: 1,195!

Talk about unspeakable stress; it was no wonder I ultimately missed five periods in a row.

Furthermore, following the second brain surgery, my mother had cognitive impairment, slurred speech and a useless left hand — for eight days post-op. We thought the neurosurgeon botched the job. (She eventually recovered.)

About 145 days after the first day of my last period, I began flowing, after 14 days of spotting!

Yes, stress can definitely make you miss several periods — many periods — in a row.

marcelle pickMarcelle Pick holds a BS in nursing from the University of New Hampshire School of Nursing and her MS in nursing from Boston College-Harvard Medical School. She is certified as an OBGYN nurse practitioner. Visit “Is It Me or My Hormones.”
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.