If The Pandemic Changed Your Period, You're Not Alone

For many of us, the worldwide lockdown seems like lifetimes ago. However, as soon as the pandemic comes into the conversation, you're likely flooded with memories of a very difficult time. COVID-19 brought stress and anxiety to everyone. The loss of loved ones, unending uncertainty, and constant isolation are just a few of the clouds that had hung over our heads for more than a year. Most people would agree that the pandemic significantly affected their mental health. And while pandemic stress hit everyone, it seemed to especially hit individuals who menstruate.

One survey conducted by CARE International discovered that among 10,000 subjects, 27% of women experienced greater mental health challenges amidst the pandemic. Meanwhile, this was true for only 10% of men. In addition, a study published by JMIR Public Health and Surveillance explained that because gender minorities are already more at risk for mental health issues due to previously existing societal conditions, they were likely to experience more stress during the pandemic than cis individuals. The Director of Gynecologic Quality and Safety at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Linda Fan, told Medical News Today, "Stress itself is well-known to cause menstrual irregularities by disrupting the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian axis (essentially the hormonal system that the brain uses to speak to the ovaries)."

What pandemic stress has to do with your period

Stress levels directly impact your hormone production, and as a result, this can interfere with your menstrual cycle. Randa J. Jalloul, MD, OB-GYN specialist, told UT Physicians, "Stress, whether emotional, nutritional, or physical, can cause an increase in endorphins and cortisol secretion." This influx of hormones can lead to a delayed, irregular, or missed period.

In an interview with Cleveland Clinic OB-GYN Swapna Kollikonda, MD, noted, "There's a continuum. Lighter stress may have lesser impacts, and heavy stress may have more dramatic impacts that last longer." According to Dr. Kollikonda, that means "the higher your cortisol levels, the more likely you are to have missing or irregular periods." A busy week at work is one thing, but more than a year of impending sickness, employment insecurity, and social and political unrest has the potential to cause extreme levels of stress. That said, it's no surprise that so many people had their menstruation cycles thrown out of whack.

Why the pandemic's effect on your period matters

Not only could the stress of the pandemic have played a role in menstrual changes but some studies have tied the vaccine to these irregularities. In a 2022 study published by Science Advances, out of almost 40,000 subjects, 42% of regularly menstruating participants observed their period become heavier and 14% observed their period become lighter after receiving the vaccine. In addition, The Wiley Public Health Emergency Collection published a study of 552 participants who were taking gender affirming hormones preventing menstruation. Of this sample, 33% dealt with breakthrough bleeding following their vaccination. 

Katherine Lee, PhD explained this phenomena to Everyday Health saying that when you're vaccinated, "There is a huge mobilization of your immune system. And I think it could just be a little bit of cellular cross-talk that is disrupting this process." Gemma Sharp, an associate professor at the University of Exeter, informed The Washington Post that it is uncertain whether pandemic-related menstrual disturbances will cause any long-term effects. Sharp added, "From what we know about how the menstrual cycle is regulated, we think these changes are likely to be short-term and unrelated to long-term health and fertility."