From the WebMD Archives

Mar. 29, 2021 -- Surveys suggest that a majority of menstruating women have experienced changes in their menstrual cycle during the past year.

Persistent stress and lifestyle changes due to the pandemic are likely to blame, health experts told The Guardian.

“If we already know that life events can make PMS symptoms feel worse, that tells us something about what is happening during something as all-consuming and life-changing as a global pandemic,” Heather Currie, MD, the associate medical director at Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary in the UK, told the news outlet.

In an informal survey in May 2020, Anita Mitra, MD, a gynecologist based in London, asked women if they had noticed changes to their cycles or hormonal symptoms. About 65% of the 5,677 respondents replied yes.

“In this lonely world, these things can become incredibly confusing & overwhelming and it’s often so comforting to know that you are not alone,” she wrote in an Instagram post about the survey results.

In another survey, which was posted on the medRxiv preprint server in February and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, sports scientists found that 53% of 749 women reported changes to their cycles, including longer cycles than usual.

Those who reported stress and worries about their family and personal health were more likely to also report changes in their menstrual symptoms. In addition, job security stress was associated with increases in bleeding time.

Changing hormone levels play a role in these shifts, The Guardian reported, and some women may be more sensitive to the changes in estrogen and progesterone in their bodies. Persistent stress can release cortisol, and unregulated cortisol can suppress normal levels of reproductive hormones in the body.

“The degree to which changing hormone levels will affect someone will probably be informed by her psychological wellbeing at that time,” Currie told the news outlet.

In addition, the lack of usual coping mechanisms and distractions, such as seeing friends, can make these shifting hormone levels and menstrual cycles more difficult.

“There is no release valve. So many of us are miserable,” Sue Ward, MD, a vice president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told The Guardian.

“Any condition that has a psychological element will have surely been made worse by lockdown,” she said. “It is a perfect storm and the body can tell the story of stress in so many ways.”

Show Sources

The Guardian, “Pandemic periods: why women's menstrual cycles have gone haywire.”
Anita Syngh, “Instagram post on May 13, 2020.”
medRxiv, “How lifestyle changes within the COVID-19 global pandemic have affected the pattern and symptoms of the menstrual cycle.”

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