Did pandemic stress change women’s periods?

Did pandemic stress change women’s periods?


During the pandemic, many women experienced high levels of stress when taking on a disproportionate share childcare and housework fallen out of the labor force in large numbers.

Now, a new study suggests that all this added stress may have changed women’s menstrual cycles in a number of ways. Some women who reported high levels of stress also reported early or late periods. Others had heavier menstrual flow or more spotting between cycles. Some women said that during the stress of the pandemic, their periods lasted longer than usual, while others said their periods became shorter.

Martina Anto-Ocrah, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who led the study, called the results “alarming” because of the effects an irregular cycle can have on fertility and mental health.

“This really extends beyond menstruation, it’s about women’s well-being,” she said.

The study, published in Obstetrics and Gynecology, was based on self-reported data from 354 women between the ages of 18 and 45 years. In early May 2021, women were asked to answer questions about their stress related to the pandemic and to report any menstrual cycle changes that occurred between March 2020 and May 2021.

More than half of the women surveyed reported changes in menstrual cycle length, period length, menstrual flow or spotting, and 12 percent of women reported a change in all four measures. The researchers found a significant association between high levels of pandemic-related stress and changes in the menstrual cycle.

Younger women and women with previously diagnosed mental health problems were more vulnerable to high stress and menstrual cycle changes. The study authors noted that the data was collected from a racially diverse and geographically representative sample. Women were not on birth control, menopausal, or postmenopausal before the pandemic.

The research is part of a growing body of evidence that suggests women’s periods changed during the pandemic.

“Women are constantly told, ‘This is in your head,’” Anto-Ocrah said. “Until we get some data that shows that what’s in women’s heads is actually the truth, the medical society rejects us and doesn’t believe it.”

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Stress can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle in several ways. The stress hormone cortisol can affect the body’s production of estrogen and progesterone, which are reproductive hormones that influence the menstrual cycle. Stress-related factors such as poor nutrition, weight gain, weight loss, and lack of sleep can also play a role.

Nicole C. Woitowich, an assistant professor of medical research at Northwestern University, found a similar association between changes in period and pandemic stress in 2020 after conducting an online study poll of 210 women. Because it was not a representative sample, the findings are inconclusive. But Woitowich said the two studies, conducted a year apart, suggest the pandemic affected women’s stress levels and menstrual cycles over a long period of time.

“Women have really borne the brunt of the pandemic, from multiple facets,” Woitowich said. “From being the primary care provider, dealing with remote learning and often working while navigating that as well.”

Linda Fan, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, said she has seen an increase in the number of patients consulting about irregular menstrual cycles. In general, one or two abnormal cycles are not something to worry about, but she encourages patients to talk to their doctors and continue to monitor their periods to make sure no worrisome patterns emerge.

In addition to stress, changes in the menstrual cycle could also indicate thyroid disease, hormonal changes, cancer, pregnancy or an infection, she said.

“It can be very alarming,” Fan said. “And I think clinicians may tend to downplay that.”

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Due to pandemic restrictions, Marcela Wakeham, 46, from Lancing, England, was unable to teach yoga or Pilates and took a job as a carer. Her husband’s business closed at the same time.

She believes that all the stress she experienced during that time may have triggered the early symptoms of menopause, including shorter menstrual cycles as well as “violent” hot flashes and insomnia. But her doctor told her that she was “too young” to enter menopause and she refused to prescribe the hormone treatment she wanted.

“I didn’t have a minute to spare for myself,” Wakeham said. “My stress levels were through the roof.”

A prolonged irregular menstrual cycle can sometimes be a sign of more worrisome changes in the body, said Amy Wagner, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. If someone is in a chronically stressful situation, higher cortisol levels over time can not only affect periods, but also increase the risk of inflammation, autoimmune disease, heart disease, high blood pressure or other chronic conditions, he said. she.

Caroline Fan, 41, of St. Louis, said she felt “on the edge” constantly during the pandemic because she worried her husband, an infectious disease doctor, would catch Covid. She was also helping coordinate outreach programs for Asian American communities and was concerned about anti-Asian violence.

During this stressful time, she noticed that her periods became heavier, her cycles became shorter, and she had more painful cramps. He also missed a period altogether. Fan said that she also lost weight and began to have difficulty sleeping. “She was so anxious because she was running around trying to do all these things,” she said.

Her cycle length is now back to normal, but Fan said she still has more painful cramps that force her to take time off work.

A recent report in international journal of epidemiology noted that questions about menstruation have not been included in most large-scale Covid-19 studies. Gemma Sharp, an associate professor at the University of Exeter and lead author of the study, said more research is needed to inform women whether these stress-related changes to their cycle will have lasting effects.

“From what we know about how the menstrual cycle is regulated, we think these changes are likely to be short-term and not related to long-term health and fertility, but it is absolutely crucial that scientists are able to produce evidence on this to give women the peace of mind they deserve,” she said.

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