Delayed or prolonged period in the time of COVID 19 pandemic

Periods, they’re painful and messy, and unpredictable. But while you might not be looking forward to getting your periods every month, realizing you’re late for no apparent reason is probably a worse feeling. Turns out, the stress caused by a deadly pandemic can do that to your body.

As the world struggles to come to terms with the deadly coronavirus outbreak, our mental health has gone for a toss. Along with that, your menstrual cycles may also have been affected – you’re locked indoors for days at a stretch, your sleep patterns have been adversely affected, you’re probably not eating healthy and your physical activities have been reduced to a minimum.

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many governments have advised people to remain inside, most services and facilities are closed and you may be having to contact loved ones over video call. Not knowing when you’ll next see your friends and family is scary and finding the perfect balance between staying up-to-date with the COVID-19 updates without becoming overwhelmed is tough. The World Health Organization has noted that the main psychological impact of COVID-19 to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. Being stressed isn’t just a mental experience. Your body reacts to it in certain ways and your menstrual cycle can become longer or shorter and your periods may stop altogether. This isn’t something to be too alarmed about but you should seek out either a close one or a medical professional if you’re struggling to cope. 

A great way to alleviate stress is to exercise. When you’re only allowed outside for emergency groceries and to exercise then the gym is off-limits. That doesn’t mean you can’t get moving at home. However, be mindful of any changes to your weight. According to the NHS, the stress that intense physical activity places on your body can affect the hormones responsible for your periods. Losing too much body fat through intense exercise can also stop you ovulating. Similarly, if you put on a lot of weight your body may produce an excess amount of estrogen which can cause your periods to stop.  

The contraceptive pill is the most form of contraception and if you’re taking hormonal contraception it may be the reason you miss a period. The coil, implant and injection may also change your cycle. Some forms of contraception such as the progesterone-only pill, injection and Mirena coil may stop your periods altogether. 

You shouldn’t worry if you miss a period, especially if you’re on hormonal birth control and going through a stressful period, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. However, ruling out more serious reasons why you might have missed a period will give you peace of mind. Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition where your body produces more of the male hormone androgen. As a result of the hormonal imbalance, cysts form on the ovaries. This can cause your periods to become irregular or to stop completely. Other symptoms include weight gain, hair loss from the head and excessive body hair growth.

Another reason you may miss a period is if you’re pregnant. Other early signs of pregnancy are nausea, tender breasts and fatigue. If you think there’s a serious possibility you could be pregnant wait to take a test until a week after your period was due to start. By taking one any sooner you could get a false negative.  

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown is stressful and your body will react in different ways to the pressure. It’s hard not to jump to conclusions when you miss a period, especially if your cycle is usually very regular. However, a change in exercise regime, birth control and mental health could all be contributing factors as to why you might miss a period. If you think you are suffering from PCOS or are pregnant you should get in touch with your clinician.

For those of you who haven’t experienced the aforementioned symptoms yet, you’re probably blessed with a more cooperative uterus. But that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk for developing complications in the long run.

To be honest, there is little one can do to reduce stress or stay calm during such tense circumstances, with the threat of a pandemic hanging above our heads like a time bomb. Yet, having a fixed routine for the day, exercising, eating healthy and just trying to take it easy may just trick your bodies into believing things are normal, thereby reducing stress levels as much as possible.

Dr. Ruchi Tandon is a Gynecologist practicing in leading hospitals in South Delhi namely Max Smart superspeciality hospital saket, Apollo hospitals, with over 13 years of experience in handling all kinds of period problems.

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