Amenorrhea, or the absence of periods, can affect any woman of menstruating age. Although there are numerous causes of amenorrhea, the term hypothalamic amenorrhea is often used to refer to the absence of periods caused by factors such as weight loss, stress and excessive exercise.
As amenorrhea can be caused by other conditions, physicians will normally perform tests to rule these out before diagnosing hypothalamic amenorrhea. Once a diagnosis has been given, physicians will work with the patient in order to ensure an effective treatment plan is in place.
When the hypothalamus stops sending specific hormones and signals to the pituitary gland, a woman's reproductive system may fail to work effectively. As a result, various symptoms, including amenorrhea, can occur.
While an organic disease could be responsible for the hypothalamus malfunction, in the case of hypothalamic amenorrhea, the lack of signal from the hypothalamus is caused by inorganic factors, such as a period of stress or excessive exercise.
It would appear, therefore, that it could be reduced if that patient is able to remove the cause of hypothalamic disruption. A patient who has been on a very low-calorie diet, for example, may find that her periods resume if she increases her calorie intake.
However, such a seemingly simple cure may not be as easy to implement in practice. If a woman is under physical or psychological stress and this results in hypothalamic amenorrhea, she may not be able to remove the stressors from her life, despite her desire to recover from the condition.
Similarly, a patient may be on a restricted diet for many reasons or they may be committed to an intensive exercise regime as a form of work or in conjunction with their academic studies.
Although it can occur in women who are only less than 15% under an average weight, the impact of eating disorders on hypothalamic amenorrhea rates cannot be overlooked.
While amenorrhea caused by a low-calorie intake may be reversed by increasing the number of calories consumed, this may not be possible for patients suffering from an eating disorder. If excessive exercise forms part of this disorder, they may be more at risk of developing the condition and, if eating disorders are present, the amenorrhea may take longer to treat.
Physicians have recommended hormone replacement therapy or the use of oral contraceptives in the treatment of hypothalamic amenorrhea. In many cases, this enables periods to resume and amenorrhea may cease.
However, some patients feel that this is merely treating the symptoms, rather than the cause. While hormone replacement therapy or oral contraceptives may prompt periods to resume, if the primary cause of hypothalamic amenorrhea isn't treated, it may cause problems in the future.
By accessing treatment for the cause of the condition, women may find that they resume menstruating naturally, rather than with the use of pharmaceuticals.
A lack of menstruation can be alarming for women and it could have an impact on their long-term fertility. If a woman is intending to reproduce, managing hypothalamic amenorrhea swiftly is essential.
In cases of hypothalamic amenorrhea, treating the cause of the condition may result in an improvement in the patient's overall health and general wellbeing. If the patient is under ongoing stress and the impact of stressors has resulted in hormonal changes, it is likely that the body is suffering in other ways too.
By using complementary therapies, patients may adapt their emotional and physical response to stressors, thus removing the root cause of the condition. Alternatively, if another factor, such as an eating disorder, has caused hypothalamic amenorrhea to occur, effective treatment for the disorder could also result in the amenorrhea being alleviated.
Fortunately, it does have a relatively good recovery rate. Studies have shown that patients who were suffering from hypothalamic amenorrhea due to low body weight, made a higher rate of recovery if they were successfully able to gain weight, even if pharmaceuticals were also prescribed.
While medications, such as hormone replacement therapies and oral contraceptives have been found to be effective in treating the condition, studies have suggested that treating the root cause of the condition with lifestyle changes can also lead to a long-term resolution of hypothalamic amenorrhea.