Why girls are having their first periods at a much younger age of eight or nine years

There was a time when girls used to get their first periods in their teens, mostly early teens. But for some, the change would take place a little later and would experience their first cycle in late teens. But with changing times, lifestyles, eating habits, environmental factors the time at which girls get their first menarche is also changing. These days it is typically seen that girls as young as eight or nine are getting their first period. This raises a lot of concern among parents. Many mothers are worried that if the early exposure to estrogen (the female hormone responsible for regulating menses, breast development and various other functions of the reproductive system) can have health complications in girls later in life. So, we spoke to Dr Bandita Sinha, consultant gynaecologist and obstetrician, World of Women, Mumbai to know more about early periods in girls. Here is an excerpt from the conversation:

What are the factors that influence early periods in girls?

The age of menarche has come down to nine years from early teenage years these days. There are a lot of factors that influence early periods – childhood illness, rapid weight change, stresses, etc., all of which affects the part of the brain that regulates periods and leads to early menarche. This is the age where a gradual change from childhood to puberty takes place; it involves physical and mental changes as well. Girls face a lot of difficulty during this period as they experience mood swings too. Here are signs of puberty in girls that every parent should know.

Do they face a lot of problems like menstrual irregularities, cramps, more since the periods start early?

One should understand that during the initial two years of menstruation some kind of irregularities can be expected. The factors that influence early menarche also influence the brain to set in these regularities. While some girls get their periods like clockwork, a few others get it at different time frames of every month. Occasionally skipping a period or getting an extra period while going through pressure or stress is normal. At times, going on a trip or facing a major change in daily schedule can delay one’s period. Such incidents are pretty normal; however, some may develop irregular periods or stop having periods altogether. This occurs due to intake of certain medications, excessive exercise, very low body weight, or not eating enough calories and depriving the body of proper nutrition. A balanced diet and moderate physical activity can help girls wade through this problem. Here are some causes of early puberty and what you can do about it.

But even after the initial two years, many girls face problems of menstrual irregularities. What is the reason?

Hormonal imbalance is a prime reason for irregular periods in young girls. At times, a malfunctioning thyroid gland could also be the problem. Too high or too low levels of thyroid hormone in the blood; disorders of the said gland can also cause menstrual irregularities. Mostly, these changes are a part of the growing years among teenagers. As one gets older the hormonal imbalances settle and the menstrual cycle also sets into a recognizable pattern. This occurs within three years after the first period.

What are the causes of irregular cycles in young adolescent girls — long interval between periods,  absence of periods, etc?

Commonly, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) which is prevalent among young Indian girls causes prolonged intervals between menstrual periods. Excess production of androgen in one’s body due to PCOS causes hair growth on the face, chin, chest, and abdomen, and is sometimes associated with excessive weight gain. Androgen is a male sex hormone that causes increased muscle mass, facial hair, and deepening of the voice in men; if it is in excess in female this could cause irregular periods. Apart from that a number of medical conditions can cause irregular or missed menses in adolescents. Secondary amenorrhea defined as the absence of menses for six months is statistically uncommon for young girls and adolescents. But some girls might face amenorrhea for more than three months or 90 days due to hormonal imbalances.

When should parents seek expert opinion regarding their girl’s menstrual problem?

Consulting a doctor becomes essential if periods are irregular for three years or more. Within the first three years, your daughter’s cycle should settle in a pattern of its own and incidences of irregularities should also lessen. Menstrual cramps could still be bothersome which needs attention during periods as young girls might find it difficult to deal with the same. However, if hormonal imbalances or a thyroid problem is what causes the irregularities or painful periods in young adolescent girls then the doctor might prescribe hormone pills or other medications to control the problem. Sometimes recommending lifestyle changes can help to have regular periods.

Image source: Shutterstock


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