How Obesity Impacts Your Menstrual Cycle

May 18, 2017

Can obesity cause irregular periods?

can obesity cause irregular periods during your menstrual cycleObesity is a very difficult emotional and psychological struggle. As a gynecologist, I see many women affected both by living with obesity and by the associated health risks: heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and sleep apnea, just to name a few.  

Did you know that obesity also affects your periods?   

Obese women often have abnormal menstrual cycles.  Sometimes periods can be very heavy and painful – causing frequent trips to the restroom, embarrassing leaks, and missed work and recreational activities. Obesity can cause irregular periods that are unpredictable, catching women unprepared at inopportune times. Other obese women may have daily bleeding for weeks at a time, which can cause vaginal irritation or relationship challenges because of avoiding intimacy. 

Why do periods change in women who are obese?

The reason is hormones. Normally, menstrual cycles are guided by hormone levels; estrogen is one of these hormones. Estrogen is responsible for the growth of the uterine lining, which sheds during periods. Estrogen is normally produced by the ovaries, but is also produced in the fat cells found in our bodies. More fat cells translates to more estrogen, a thicker uterine lining, and heavy bleeding during menstruation. If enough estrogen is produced in the fat cells it can even interrupt the regular cycling of other important menstrual hormones, causing infrequent periods.
The good news is that there are medications that can help with these problems while you and your healthcare provider work to understand the underlying cause of obesity. If you are concerned about how your weight may be affecting your menstrual cycle, contact your physician to discuss options for improving your periods and getting to a healthy weight.
Kim Tustison, MD is a UCR Women’s Health OB/Gyn. View Dr. Kim Tustison's profile to learn more.