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Why COVID-19 is disrupting menstrual cycles

In the survey, menstrual disturbances included irregular, missed, painful, or heavy periods, and premenstrual symptoms

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By Georgia Lambert via SWNS

The mental strain caused by the Covid pandemic has disrupted menstrual cycles, a new study discovered.

Women also suffered worse anxiety, depression, premenstrual symptoms and a reduced sex drive, scientists said.

New research suggested high levels of stress and disrupted sleep suffered by women during the pandemic have thrown their periods off balance.

Female reproductive health has been disrupted as a result of the psychological fallout from the coronavirus crisis and experts think affected women now need medical and psychological support. 

Looking back at the height of the Covid pandemic, scientists said the last two years had a devastating impact on the lives of the global population.

Our collective mental health has had to deal with significant changes to daily lifestyles, eating, and exercising habits.

Stress is a known factor that can mess up menstrual cycles by affecting hormone levels, as well as causing fluctuations in body weight or disturbed sleep patterns.

According to the researchers, these stressors are associated with different side effects.

Stress hormones can directly inhibit sex hormones, while sleep disturbance is linked to infertility, and increased belly fat is also associated with menstrual dysfunction.

Portrait of concentrating woman isolated on grey wall background.
Researchers said the disruptions in the women’s menstrual cycles were linked to increased levels of mental distress and poor sleep (Shutterstock)

To investigate the impact of the pandemic on reproductive health, a research team led by Dr. Lisa Owens in Dublin surveyed over 1,300 women last April.

In addition to standard measures of depression, anxiety, and sleep quality, the survey also asked about their menstrual cycles.

In the survey, menstrual disturbances included irregular, missed, painful, or heavy periods, and premenstrual symptoms.

Out of the thousands of women, over half of the women had an overall change in their menstrual cycles since the beginning of the pandemic.

While 64 percent said they experienced worse premenstrual symptoms, just over half suffered a reduced sex drive.

The study also found double the rates of severe depression, anxiety, and poor sleep in menstruating women, than in pre-pandemic times.

The researchers said the disruptions in the women’s menstrual cycles were linked to increased levels of mental distress and poor sleep.

Dr. Michelle Maher, who was one of the study’s authors, said: “Our findings highlight a real need to provide appropriate medical care and mental health support to women affected by menstrual disturbance, given the unprecedented psychological burden associated with the pandemic.”

This study is the first of its kind to bring to light that women experience reproductive health disturbances just one year into the pandemic, as a direct result of psychological stress and poor sleep, scientists said.

Dr. Maher said: “This study was conducted at a relatively early stage of the COVID-19 vaccination program, so the length of the pandemic and effectiveness of the vaccine may influence future findings, further investigation with objective, measurable data is needed.”  

This female-led study contributed to the overall understanding of the reproductive health system and the researchers hope it can guide future practices and help shape health policies.

The team plans to conduct these surveys at six-month intervals to determine progress and to identify any longer-term effects on female reproductive and mental health.

As well as the surveys, more objective measurements of blood pressure, weight, sex hormone levels and ovulation will be collected from the women participating.

Dr. Maher said women who are worried about their periods should seek medical advice.

She added: “We would encourage women experiencing any reproductive disturbances such as irregular, missed periods, painful or heavy periods, PMS or reduced sex drive, as well as mental health disturbances - including symptoms of low mood, anxiety, stress and poor sleep - to see their GP for advice.”

Dr. Maher added: “We are planning to provide support for women affected by menstrual cycle abnormalities by developing psychological support workshops at our center.”

The research was presented at the Society for Endocrinology annual conference in Edinburgh.

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