The coronavirus pandemic has upended the way we work, connect with others, and carry out daily activities. A side effect of those lifestyle changes? Your menstrual cycle getting out of whack.
The main culprit of this is the very real stress associated with the COVID-19 crisis, according to Beth Donaldson, medical director and family physician with Copeman Healthcare. We’re all experiencing a lot of anxiety right now, and that can have a major impact on your cycle.
“Stress hormones can react with the regular hormonal cycle and misguide the body,” Donaldson said. “This means the cycle can come early, late or not at all. The most common form of a disrupted menstrual cycle is a missed or delayed period.”
This happens because your body is adapting to protect itself. When we are in a state of perceived stress, our system prioritizes safety over ovulation, said Kate Denniston, a licensed naturopathic doctor at Los Angeles Integrative Health.
“Based on our perceived levels of stress and brain signaling, our bodies may decide that it isn’t a good time to ovulate or have a period,” she said, noting that a menstrual cycle requires a “delicate orchestra of events for the right hormones to be created at the right time,” and stress can disrupt that.
Can coronavirus itself disrupt your period?
According to Jennifer Conti, an OB/GYN at Stanford University, the medical community doesn’t have enough information about how COVID-19 affects other organ systems in your body.
That said, “it’s not unreasonable to think that the physical and mental stress it places on your body could have downstream effects on your reproductive health, including the regularity of your menstrual cycle,” Conti added.
The physical symptoms COVID-19 may place on your body ― like fever, nausea, diarrhea and possibly pneumonia ― may be to blame if you do have a disruption in your period, added Marsha Granese, an OB/GYN with Mission Hospital in Southern California. “But this is generally short-term that extends for the duration of COVID-19 symptoms,” she said.
And even if you don’t get coronavirus, the effects of this time in our lives can definitely have an impact ― even if you take acute stress out of the equation.
“Our period is influenced by our diet, sleep, exercise routines and more,” said Natasha Bhuyan, a practicing family physician in Phoenix, Arizona, said. “During this time of physical distancing, many people are experiencing a dramatic change in their usual routine. As a result, they might notice a missed period, spotting, or even a heavier flow than usual.”
Bhuyan added that the sudden change in routine has also caused her patients to forget taking their birth control pills, which can also disrupt a monthly period. She recommended the use of the reminder app or leaving the pills near your toothbrush.
Other possible reasons for a missed or changed period.
Of course, life still exists even though we’re in a pandemic. There are also a number of other possible, non-coronavirus-related reasons someone could miss a period. Kim Langdon, a retired OB/GYN and expert at the children’s health resource ParentingPod, outlined a few triggers:
- Birth control pills: Some birth control pills, like the progesterone-only “mini pill,” can cause irregular bleeding.
- IUDs: IUDs may cause spotting, irregular bleeding or missed periods.
- Thyroid disorder: Your thyroid can help control your period. An issue with this function can cause either excessive bleeding, irregular bleeding, scant or absent bleeding.
- PCOS: Polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal disorder, can cause menstrual irregularity and missed periods.
- Endometriosis: A condition that causes extreme painful periods, and can also result in abnormal periods and irregularity.
- Fibroids: These are benign muscle tumors that can impinge on the uterine cavity and disrupt the normal flow of blood.
So when do you know it’s time to talk to your doctor? Bindiya Gandhi, a physician in Atlanta, suggested you first “give yourself a couple months to regulate and adjust to new routine, changes and your cycle.”
Try to curb your stress the best you can (here are some resources to help with that) and make sure to create as much of a “normal” routine as possible.
“However, if your bleeding is longer, excessive or you’re experiencing clotting you need to bring that up,” Gandhi said. “If you are skipping more than one cycle ― and not pregnant ― you need to follow up with your doc to see what’s going on.”
You should also consider seeing your doctor “if you’ve had spotting or bleeding in between periods, have pelvic pain, vision changes or nipple discharge while not breastfeeding,” Denniston added.
It’s always worth checking in if you’re concerned. Your doctor can give you guidance on what you can do ― that’s tailored to you, your issues and your health history ― so you can get back on track.
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