Originally published March 20, 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been impacting the health and personal decision-making of people across the globe for over a year now. While many of us have been forced to change parts of our routines, people with cycles know that periods haven’t stopped for this pandemic.
You may have heard that COVID-19 and pandemic stress is taking a toll on cycle predictability — or maybe you’ve experienced it personally. If you’ve been noticing some cycle changes lately, it’s possible that the pandemic had something to do with it. Let’s take a look at COVID-19 and how it’s impacting people’s periods.
Can the stress of the pandemic impact my period?
Across the internet, we’ve seen anecdotal reports that pandemic stress is showing up for some people as changes in their menstrual cycle. You don’t need to have an active COVID-19 infection to have your period thrown off by the pandemic. Living through a pandemic can be a stressful experience for anyone. Stress in general may influence cycle length, vaginal bleeding patterns, painful periods, and premenstrual symptoms (1).
The stress of coping mentally, physically, and financially with the changes of the past year has disproportionately affected women and people with cycles. Although men have a higher risk for death and complications from COVID-19 than women (2), the pandemic has brought to light the gender-related disparities in our healthcare and social support systems. Trans and nonbinary people have also been impacted by this pandemic and may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 (3).
Changes in the workforce have fallen largely on the shoulders of women, including unemployment, lack of childcare, virtual schooling, and potential exposure to COVID-19 at work. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 73% of healthcare workers identify as women (4). Other domestic workers and formal and informal caregivers, a group that is composed largely of people of color and immigrants, are also mostly women (5). These jobs include nurses, cleaners and elderly carers, who in many cases had to continue working throughout the pandemic. Even before the pandemic, many of these workers were employed under poor conditions, with long hours and often without insurance.
Job loss from the pandemic has impacted women more than men, with 11% of women in the USA claiming unemployment, compared to 4% of men (6). Unemployment and underemployment in the USA means losing health insurance benefits and difficulty accessing healthcare. Women of color and immigrants are most at risk of being uninsured (5).
Even with health insurance, access to the healthcare systems in most countries has been limited. Pregnant people have been particularly stressed out during the pandemic, and for good reason — pregnancy brings with it an increased risk for severe COVID-19 symptoms (7), as well as the emotional burden of visitor restriction policies seen since the pandemic first began (8). About a third of women in the USA have reported inability to access sexual and reproductive healthcare including contraception, with a higher percentage of Black, Latinx, LGBTQIA, and low-income women struggling to access care (9). Abortion access has also been restricted throughout the pandemic (9). Domestic violence and gender-based violence has escalated throughout the past year (9).
Simply put, women and people with cycles are dealing with a lot right now. On top of all of the stressors inflicted by the changes in work and home life, there’s the added stress of trying to avoid becoming infected with or losing a loved one to the virus.
Can COVID-19 infection impact my period?
Everyone has been dealing with pandemic stress, but some people have been dealing with COVID-19 infection on top of it all. A person who contracts COVID-19 may have noticeable changes in their menstrual cycle. So far, researchers aren’t sure exactly why or how the virus changes the cycle, but one theory is that the stress that a COVID-19 infection puts on the body can lead to menstrual cycle changes. One 2020 study evaluated the menstrual patterns of people with confirmed infection with COVID-19 and found significant cycle change. In this study, most people reported no differences in menstrual volume, but 20% reported a decrease in bleeding (10). People with severe illness from the virus were more likely to have longer menstrual cycles, meaning cycles that were longer than 28 days (10).
On the other hand, where you are in your cycle could impact your viral symptoms if you are infected with COVID-19. Exacerbations of many conditions like asthma and migraine is common during the luteal phase of the cycle (11). Researchers believe that fluctuating levels of the hormone estrogen may influence special immune cells in the body, leading to the onset or worsening of symptoms in some illnesses and conditions (11). These same hormones could intensify COVID-19 symptoms, too.
It’s likely that infection with COVID-19 may influence your period, and likewise that menstruation may influence the symptoms of COVID-19. It’s also possible to be experiencing pandemic stress or COVID-19 infection and not sustain any changes to your cycle. The little research that’s been done to determine exactly how the virus and cycles interact only scratches the surface, and more research is needed.
How to know if COVID-19 infection or pandemic stress is influencing your cycle
You can monitor any changes to your cycle including pain, volume, and length by tracking them in Clue. You can also track some symptoms that might correspond with COVID-19 infection including energy, sleep, temperature, digestion, stool, and pain. Tracking can help you notice any changes in your cycle pattern and see where your symptoms fall in your cycle.
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