According to new research, women who experienced substantial stress as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic were twice as likely to see changes in their menstrual cycle.
The study’s findings were published in Obstetrics & Gynecology by the University of Pittsburgh. According to the researchers, more than half of the study participants reported changes in menstrual cycle length, period duration, menstrual flow, or increased spotting, which might have economic and health ramifications for women.
“Early in the pandemic, it would come up anecdotally in talks with girlfriends and other women that ‘things have been kind of crazy with my period since the epidemic,'” said lead author Martina Anto-Ocrah, Ph.D., M.P.H., M.T. (A.S.C.P.). “We know that the epidemic has been a tremendously stressful period for many individuals, and we know that stress may appear in women’s bodies as alterations in menstruation function.”
Between March 2020 and May 2021, Anto-Ocrah and her colleagues created a two-part survey that contained a validated COVID-19 stress scale and self-reported menstrual cycle alterations.
The researchers collaborated with a market research firm to recruit a geographically and ethnically diverse set of participants to conduct the online survey in order to reach a varied population that was representative of the United States. They limited the sample to women between the ages of 18 and 45 who did not use chemical birth control.
10.5% of the 354 women who completed both portions of the poll expressed excessive stress.
After controlling for age, obesity, and other factors, the researchers discovered that women with high COVID-19 stress were more likely than their low-stress counterparts to report changes in menstrual cycle length, period duration, and spotting. In the high stress group, there was also a trend for higher menstrual flow, however this result was not statistically significant.
“Women’s responsibilities were reinterpreted throughout the epidemic, and as a society, we made steps back in terms of gender parity,” Anto-Ocrah explained. “Women frequently bore the burden of childcare and domestic responsibilities, and they perceived changes in daily activities and the risk of COVID-19 infection to be more stressful than males.”
Approximately 12% of subjects reported alterations in all four menstrual cycle aspects, which the researchers described as concerning.
“The menstrual cycle is an indicator of women’s general well-being,” Anto-Ocrah explained. “Menstrual cycle disruption and variable hormones can have an influence on fertility, mental health, cardiovascular disease, and other consequences. Finally, these issues can influence interpersonal dynamics, thereby adding strain to partnerships.”
Longer, more frequent, or heavier periods can also strain women’s budgets due to increased prices for feminine hygiene supplies.
“We know that the epidemic has had a detrimental economic impact on many individuals,” Anto-Ocrah added. “It’s a double whammy if modifications to your flow during a time of economic difficulty boost period-related charges – or the ‘tampon tax’ – economically.”
She believes that the findings will spur additional global research on COVID-19 stress and women’s health, including long-term implications on fertility, menopausal transition, and mental health.