Women with high stress related to the pandemic were twice as likely to experience changes in their menstrual cycle compared to those with low pandemic-related stress, according to new research. The study by the University of Pittsburgh, published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, said that overall, more than half of the participants reported changes in menstrual cycle length, period duration, menstrual flow or increased spotting, irregularities that could have economic and health consequences for women.
"Early in the pandemic, it would come up anecdotally in conversations with girlfriends and other women that 'things have been kind of wacky with my period since the pandemic,'" said lead author Martina Anto-Ocrah, assistant professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Pitt School of Medicine.
"Stress can manifest in women's bodies as changes in menstrual function, and we know that the pandemic has been an incredibly stressful time for many people," she added.
The team developed a two-part survey that included a validated Covid-19 stress scale and self-reported menstrual cycle changes between March 2020 and May 2021. They restricted the sample to people aged 18 to 45 who identified as women and were not taking hormonal birth control. Of 354 women who completed both parts of the survey, 10.5 per cent reported high stress.
The researchers found that women with high Covid-19 stress were more likely to report changes in menstrual cycle length, period duration and spotting than their low-stress peers. There was also a trend towards heavier menstrual flow in the high stress group, although this result was not statistically significant.
"During the pandemic, women's roles were redefined, and, as a society, we took steps back in terms of gender equity," said Anto-Ocrah. "Women often shouldered the brunt of childcare and household tasks, and they found changes to daily activities and the risk of COVID-19 infection more stressful than men."
About 12 per cent of participants reported changes in all four menstrual cycle features, a finding that the researchers called alarming.
Longer, more frequent or heavier periods can also hit women in the wallet because of additional costs for feminine hygiene products. She hoped that the study inspires more research on Covid-19 stress and women's health on a global scale.