Irregular Periods

Kelly Anne Spratt, D.O., Director of Women's Cardiovascular Health at the University of Pennsylvania Presbyterian Medical Center, answers your questions.

Q. I am 20 years old and my period has never been regular, but it has seemed more irregular lately. I have been really stressed lately and I have been exercising more. Could these things be afffecting my cycle?

A. Stress and exercise definitely affect your menstrual cycle. Women who exercise or train heavily can have abnormal menstrual cycles or amenorrhea (no menstrual cycle) if body fat drops below a certain percentage. This can cause bone loss, since estrogen levels also drop with the decrease in body fat. This will put you at risk for osteoporosis. Try cutting back on your workouts to see whether you resume your cycles, and be sure that you are getting enough calcium in your diet through food or supplements.

As far as stress is concerned, try to find alternative ways of dealing with it such as yoga or deep breathing. Although exercise is usually stress relieving, I do not recommend that you focus solely on this, since that can cause menstrual irregularity.

If your periods are still irregular, check with your health care provider as to whether you should be put on birth control pills. The pills can ensure that you have enough estrogen in your body to help maintain your bone health. Having regular menstrual cycles with birth control pills may also help with your stress level -- after all, the more you worry about your irregular periods, the less likely you are to have regular ones.