We cannot miss out the huge impact COVID-19 pandemic has had on humanity. COVID-19 infection is usually associated with respiratory symptoms, such as cough, fever or shortness of breath. Nevertheless, it can also impact other systems of our body such as the digestive, nervous or cardiovascular system. A growing body of evidence suggests that COVID-19 infection can affect your menstrual cycle as well. Talking generally, this can be caused by the virus itself or by the stress it causes on the body. Let’s not also forget the lifestyle adjustments needed, which can also impact the menstrual cycle. Let’s break down what we know so far, keep reading below!
COVID-19 infection and menstruation
It is too early to say for sure what exactly happens that leads to the disruption the normal pattern of a women’s period, since more studies need to be conducted. It is thought that the infection stresses the body, leading to noticeable changes in menstrual cycles. COVID-19 infection is a viral infection. Viral infections put human bodies under stress and the processes of ovulation and menstruation can be left aside as our immune system fights the virus. The period changes during COVID-19 are similar to those of other illnesses such as the flu or the common cold.
Fortunately, a study reports that the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) is likely safe from the virus, since it has low levels of the receptors the coronavirus binds to (the so called ACE2 receptors). Another study on the other hand assesses data of 177 menstruating women with COVID-19 infection. Change in menstrual cycle regularity was found in 25% of women.
What can be the reason behind these results? Thinking out loud, women ovulate for one reason – to get pregnant. When do you not want to get pregnant? When you are sick. In other words, the dysregulation of menstrual cycle induced by COVID-19 infection can be considered as a protective mechanism for both the woman herself and the potential offspring. Mother nature is amazing!
Luckily, researchers observe that most of the participants in the studies return to normal menstrual volume and length a couple of months after having COVID-19 infection.
What are the reported changes?
Summarized, some of the most reported changes in the menstrual cycle include:
- Lighter periods than usual
- Heavier periods than usual
- Having periods more frequently (fewer than 24 days apart)
- Longer duration of the menstruation (bleeding for more than 7 days)
- Frequently spotting between periods
- Excessive clots
- Missed periods (going two or more months without periods)
- Worse PMS symptoms
Pandemic stress affects menstrual cycle
Living during a pandemic can be extremely stressful. A lot of people are worrying about their health and the health of their loved ones, other go through the discomfort of working from home, people are constantly wondering when things will return to normal… Because mental and physical health are strongly connected, all those negative emotions can influence all of the systems in our human body, including our reproductive one.
Many women had to change a lot of things about their everyday life during the past year. For example, the everyday eating, sleeping and exercise routines and habits are a subject to change. This can induce a stress response and affect your period.
Stress itself increases cortisol levels, which affects menstruation. Why? Because stress is known to disrupt the hypothalamic-pituitary ovarian axis – the hormonal system that connects your brain to your ovaries. Stress and hormonal imbalance can lead to PCOS (Polycystic Ovary Syndrome) in women. Stress can also cause imbalance of insulin, which is also connected with PCOS.
Finally, if by any chance you picked up bad habits from the past – it is proven that increased alcohol or tobacco abuse and weight changes disrupt hormonal balance.
In conclusion, doesn’t matter if it is pandemic or not, any stressful situation can alter hormone levels and cause a woman not to menstruate regularly or to have other changes in the menstrual cycle. Mostly, because ovulation seizes to happen. But let’s not forget that period changes can also signal something more serious going on with your health. More serous symptoms require consulting with an obstetrics and gynecology specialist. If you skipped a period because of stress, it is generally not a major health concern. However, if you are sexually active, even if you are on birth control, a skipped period may warrant a pregnancy test.