A study has revealed that the impact of pandemic life-related stress has affected women’s menstrual cycles. Women have been experiencing major irregularities caused by pandemic stress, which experts say can have a detrimental impact on long-term health problems. Some had heavier menstrual flow, while others had increased spotting between cycles. For others, their periods were unusually shorter or longer.
The medical study was published in Obstetrics and Gynecology and analyzes data from 354 women who were questioned in May 2021. They were asked to recall pandemic-related stress and irregular menstrual cycles in the past year. More than half of them reported changes in menstrual cycle length, menstrual flow, period length and spotting, with four percent confirming a change in all four of these measures.
Martina Anto-Ocrah, an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and also the study’s leader, said the results were “frightening” as an irregular menstrual cycle can have a terrible impact on fertility and mental health. Younger women and those with a history of mental illness were more vulnerable to such changes. The data was collected from a racially diverse group, and the women were not taking birth control.
The study mentioned that the high levels of stress came mainly from the ‘a disproportionate share of childcare and housework’. Job desertion and financial struggles were also causes. The stress hormone cortisol affects the production of estrogen and progesterone, the reproductive hormones involved with menstruation.
Nicole Woitowich, an assistant professor of medical research at Northwestern University, also found a similar link between pandemic stress and altered menstrual cycles in 2020, but her study was inconclusive. She pointed out how the women had been through a lot, “from being the primary caregiver, dealing with remote learning, and often working while navigating that as well.”
Other research also suggests that the corona virus itself and vaccinations also affected menstrual cycles. Changes here also included irregular cycles or longer intervals between bleeds, mood swings, and fatigue.
Experts point to the indifference and stigma related to women’s menstruation. anto-ocrah said, “Women are constantly told, ‘This is in your head.'”. She added, “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.”
In addition to stress, menstrual cycle aberrations can also indicate thyroid disease, hormonal changes, cancer, pregnancy, or an infection. Candace Tingen, program director for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, emphasized the importance of periods. “We talk about it as a fifth vital sign,” she said (the other four are body temperature, blood pressure, pulse and respiration). The pandemic had a greater impact on women’s menstrual cycles than we had imagined.
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