There's been lots of debate around whether COVID-19 can affect your period or not. Read on to decipher fact from fiction and learn what you can do to relieve symptoms if you have your period whilst contracting COVID.
How does having COVID affect your period?
Every menstrual cycle is different, varying from person to person, with individual cycles differing from month to month too. But how does having COVID affect your period? If you’ve recently contracted coronavirus and you’ve noticed a few changes to your cycle, there is a chance the two are linked.
More than two years on from the start of the pandemic, we’ve had a chance to study the disease, with numerous studies and surveys having been conducted that show there are some links between COVID and changes to your period.
But it’s important to note that any disruptions you may be experiencing are most likely to be short-term. Mr Narendra Pisal from the London Gynaecology told us,
“Having a mild/transient COVID infection has not been associated with long-term impact on the menstrual cycle. The changes seen are short-term and usually resolve within 3 months after recovering from COVID. These changes can present in various forms including longer periods, slightly heavier periods but also delayed or absent periods.”
If you’ve noticed these changes to your period, it’s very likely that your cycle will return to normal soon.
How your period is affected by stress
If the last couple of years living through a pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that taking care of our emotional well-being should be a top priority. Mental health in the UK deteriorated dramatically during the long lockdowns and the stress of the unknown has had an impact on many of us recently. This kind of stress can affect your period too.
Because stress triggers a boost in the hormone Cortisol, our body switches on its ‘fight or flight' mode—meaning that we find it harder to relax, sleep is disturbed and we might even experience appetite changes too.
Gaining or losing weight quickly can also cause changes to your period, as can lack of sleep. The results of all of this can be skipped, missed or late periods, irregular bleeding or an increase in PMS symptoms.
And when it comes to COVID and stress, Mr. Pisal also explains that more severe infections might mean more disruptions to your cycle:
“Severe COVID infections and 'Long COVID’, where the recovery from COVID infection is delayed, have been associated with longer-term impact on the menstrual cycle. The mechanism for this effect could be due to impact of stress (similar to other severe illnesses) on the ovarian hormonal axis including that on the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. There are some studies suggesting a more prolonged impact on women and a change in ovarian reserve (fertility potential of ovaries). However, there are other studies showing no impact at all."
How does COVID affect women with Endometriosis?
So what is a COVID period like if you suffer from endometriosis? Mr Pisal told us,
"There are some studies suggesting a worsening of menstrual symptoms in women suffering from endometriosis. It is suggested that women who are already vulnerable to cycle disruption may be more affected by COVID infection. Again, seeing your doctor for an assessment and discussing treatment options is suggested, particularly if these symptoms are affecting you in a major way.”
If you have endometriosis, or you’re experiencing a heavy flow period on COVID and you’re concerned about changes to your cycle, speak to your doctor for advice.
How is fertility impacted by COVID?
Wondering what all of these changes mean for your longterm health and potential plans for a family somewhere down the line? You’re not alone. And while it’s still very early days and there are more studies that need to be done, reports from the British Fertility Society suggest that your chances of getting pregnant are not affected by COVID, or the COVID-19 vaccine. However if you have suffered from Long COVID, Mr Pisal advises:
“At London Gynaecology, we recommend that you document your menstrual pattern by keeping a menstrual diary. If you have seen a variation, it may be useful to see your doctor or a gynaecologist for an assessment. If you are suffering from Long COVID, please ask your doctor for an ovarian hormone profile (and if possible an AMH test), especially if future fertility is important for you.”
An AMH test (Anti-Mullerian Hormone Test) will investigate how well your body is able to produce eggs that can be fertilised. Along with an ovarian hormone profile, this information can be used to paint a better picture of your future fertility.
The British Medical Journal (BMJ) stated in January 2022 that the latest evidence on the links between the menstrual cycle and COVID is reassuring, but that more work needs to be done to investigate further:
“A deeper understanding of the effects of both infection and vaccination on fertility will enable better counselling of patients for whom this is of particular concern.
The work that has been done represents a step in the right direction, but the fact that it has taken us so long to get here reflects the low priority with which menstrual and reproductive health is often treated in medical research. The widespread interest in this topic highlights how pressing a concern this is for the public. It’s time we started listening to them.”
How do you treat your period when you have COVID?
If you’re suffering from the most common COVID symptoms and you have your period too, chances are you’re not feeling great. Anecdotally, women have been reported worse PMS symptoms and period cramps and there are studies that back this up.
Interestingly, this study also found that those who reported worse menstrual cramps also reported more severe COVID symptoms too, but luckily both can be easily treated at home.
Easing symptoms of period while having COVID
If you’ve tested positive and you have your period, the current advice from the NHS is fairly straight forward—you can take paracetamol and ibuprofen for headaches and muscle pain and you can contact your pharmacist about over-the-counter treatments for a sore throat and cough.
Treatment for period cramps is pretty similar and can be managed at home. Holding a hot water bottle to the abdomen is one of the best ways to bring relief. The WUKA wearable hot water bottle can be held snugly to provide soothing relief, and it even has a pocket for your phone!
There’s also evidence that suggests that avoiding sugary, processed foods, alcohol and smoking can help too, plus it’s a good idea to prioritise sleep while you recover from COVID.
When it comes to over-the-counter pain relief, the NHS advises that ibuprofen is more effective for cramps, and aspirin is also helpful to manage pain. Read the guidance and seek advice if you have asthma, as these medicines are not suitable for you.
Things to remember whilst on your period with COVID
Period cramps and other PMS symptoms are no fun, and for some women, they can severely impact on quality of life too, and possibly worsen during a COVID infection.
Despite this, its important to remember that for most people, COVID symptoms tend to be both mild and short-term, and period cramps are short-term too—plus any changes to your cycle are likely to be temporary.
Mr Pisal agrees, advising:
"If a period is slightly delayed or slightly early, that is no cause for concern—unless it becomes a persistent pattern. Keep an eye on things and usually, the cycle will return back to normal.”
If you are concerned, cycle tracking is a good idea, so that you can help your doctor to better understand what could be going on. Mr Patel goes on to say,
“If periods become persistently irregular or if there are any ‘red flag’ symptoms such as prolonged bleeding, heavier flow, bleeding between periods or after sex, see your GP or gynaecologist urgently.”
Having COVID can be stressful and experiencing a range of PMS symptoms at the same time can have a huge impact on your emotional well-being. If you’re experiencing a decline in mental health, reach out and seek advice from an experienced professional, and continue taking antidepressants if you’ve been prescribed them, but speak to your doctor if you have concerns.