Has your period changed due to Covid stress or something more serious?

YOU may have noticed a change in your period recently and wondered if it’s worth seeing a doctor for.

Growing research is showing that Covid is disrupting women’s cycles, due to both stress and the vaccine.

Some women have seen their periods change over the pandemic, mostly becoming worse

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Some women have seen their periods change over the pandemic, mostly becoming worseCredit: Alamy

A study published this week in the Journal of Women’s Health  found that half of American women surveyed saw their periods get longer and heavier between March and August of 2020.

The researchers put it down to pandemic stress, considering respondents also reported higher levels of stress.

But there are a number of reasons why your period may change in length, or become heavier, lighter, more painful, stop, or generally become irregular.

Some of these may need medical attention.

Here we look at the reasons why your period might have changed:

Covid-19

Northwestern University’s study, showing that 54 per cent of women had seen their menstrual cycle change, is backed by a British study.

The survey, led by Georgie Bruinvels of Orreco Ltd, a company that supports the healthcare of athletes, also found that half had seen a change in their menstrual cycle in the first lockdown.

The team said the “greatest contributor” towards changes in symptoms during “that time of the month” was stress.

Stress is known to impact on a woman’s normal cycle, as well as diet, exercise, and lack of sleep and energy.

Meanwhile, nearly 35,000 British women have reported having disruption to their periods following their Covid jabs to the drug regulator, the MHRA. 

Dr Victoria Male, a reproductive specialist at Imperial College London, wrote in the BMJ the link between changes and the vaccines is plausible.

Most people find that their period returns to normal the following cycle and, importantly, there is no evidence that Covid-19 vaccination adversely affects fertility.

An STI

If you’ve noticed blood in your knickers between periods, it may not actually be spotting.

It could be the symptom of an STI, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. 

Sometimes these STIs can go on to cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) – an infection of the genital tract, including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

The symptoms of PID also including bleeding between periods, as well as painful or heavy periods, pain around the pelvis and lower tummy, during sex and when weeing.

It’s a good idea to get tested if you’ve recently had unprotected sex with a new partner, the NHS says – and always remember condoms are the only way to prevent STIs spreading.

PCOS

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a condition that affects around one in ten women.

One of the key signs is bleeding between periods or irregular periods.

The Office on Women’s Health says: “Women with PCOS may miss periods or have fewer periods (fewer than eight in a year). 

“Or, their periods may come every 21 days or more often. Some women with PCOS stop having menstrual periods.”

The condition is caused by an imbalance in hormones, leading to problems in the ovaries where eggs are released.

If you have symptoms of excess body and facial hair, acne, weight gain, thinning head hair or difficulty pregnant, it may mean you have PCOS and should see your GP.

Contraception

If you’ve recently changed your contraceptive, spotting between periods is quite normal.

It’s the body’s way of adjusting to a new hormonal medicine. 

Dr Sarah Jarvis of Patientaccess.com said: “If you’ve recently had an IUS (a hormone-releasing contraceptive coil) inserted, your doctor will probably tell you not to worry about spotting, as it’s common in the first few months after it’s inserted.

“Spotting can also happen in the first few months after you start a new contraceptive pill and in some women taking the progestogen-only pill (often called ‘the mini pill), spotting persists. 

“It’s common if you’ve taken emergency contraception.

“Likewise, using the contraceptive implant can lead to spotting – this may not settle and it is a  relatively common reason for women asking to have their implant removed.”

When should you see a GP?

The NHS says to see a GP if you notice these things about your periods.

You may also have other symptoms related to conditions like PCOS or fibroids.

But these signs are related only to your period – for example how heavy or long it is.

See your GP if:

  • you’re worried about your bleeding
  • your periods have got heavier or your periods last longer than seven days
  • you have period pain that affects your daily life
  • you’re bleeding between your periods or during sex
  • you’ve had a negative pregnancy test and you’ve missed more than three periods in a row
  • your periods suddenly become irregular and you’re under 45
  • you have periods more often than every 21 days or less often than every 35 days
  • there’s a big difference (at least 20 days) between your shortest and longest menstrual cycle
  • you have irregular periods and you’re struggling to get pregnant

Menopause

The menopause is medically when a woman’s periods stop, usually between the age of 45 and 55.

But in the lead up to this point, her periods become irregular due to changing hormone levels.

This can last several years and is known as the perimenopause. Women can start to see changes from their early 40s.

One in every 100 women will have an early menopause, which can start as early as the 20s. So although your irregular periods are unlikely to be caused by an early menopause, it can’t be ruled out.

Pregnancy

It goes without saying that if a woman’s period stops, she immediately wonders if she is pregnant.

But there is a stage during early pregnancy when a woman can experience light bleeding, too.

It’s caused by a process called implantation – when the egg attaches to the uterus in the womb. 

The blood may be pink to brown in color, light, and could be accompanied by mild cramping.

Weight loss or overexercising

Everyone goes through stages of trying to eat better or exercise more.

But going over the top can cause your period to stop.

The NHS says: “Severely restricting the amount of calories you eat stops the production of hormones needed for ovulation.

“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.”

Being overweight

Similarly, carrying too much weight for your frame can also cause periods to go haywire.

The NHS states: “If you’re overweight, your body may produce an excess amount of oestrogen, one of the hormones that regulate the reproductive system in women.

“Excess oestrogen can affect how often you have periods, and can also cause your periods to stop.”

Endometriosis 

Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that lines the womb grows outside the womb, such as in the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

It acts in the same way as the tissue in the womb, building and shedding blood throughout the cycle.

Endometriosis can make periods agonising, heavier or irregular.

It takes an average of seven years for a woman with endometriosis to get a diagnosis.

Make sure to see your GP if you are having pain in the pelvic area, including during sex, when using the toilet and around your period. Fatigue and bleeding from the bottom are also symptoms. 

Fibroids 

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths that develop in or around the womb and can cause heavy or painful periods.

Fibroids are common, with around one in three women developing them at some point in their life.

They most often occur in women aged 30 to 50, when oestrogen levels are highest.

Not all women have symptoms. But those who do may notice worse periods, tummy and back pain, needing to urinate more often, constipation, and pain during sex.

Cancer

In very rare cases, bleeding between your periods may be the sign of a gynaecological cancer, such as cervical, womb or vaginal.

Bleeding during or after sex is a key sign of cervical cancer.

While bleeding after the menopause is often a warning sign of womb cancer, typically seen in women in their 70s.

Similarly vaginal cancer – which is rare in those under 40 years old – causes bleeding between periods and occasionally bloodstained discharge.

What is a normal period?

A “normal” menstrual cycle is between 22 and 35 days, from the first day of a woman’s period to the day before her next one. The bleed lasts anywhere between two and seven days.

But cycles vary between women.

Most women experience some cramping during their period, caused by the womb contracting to push out the blood.

But experts say you should see a doctor if the pain is not eased with traditional remedies, like paracetemol or a hot water bottle.

Some women naturally have heavier periods than others, but the NHS says if your periods are so heavy that they impact your life, there is help available.

Heavy menstrual bleeding is defined as losing 80ml or more in each period, having periods that last longer than seven days, or both.

Dr Vanessa MacKay, consultant gynaecologist and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, urges anyone who has a heavier period to what is normal for her to speak to a doctor.

She told Central Recorder: “If a woman has had a longer or heavier period that is significantly different to what is normal for her and/or if her period lasts longer than seven days, she should speak to her healthcare professional.

“There are various treatments for heavy periods, including contraception, medicines, and in some cases, surgery.”

When it comes to the duration of your period, it usually lasts two to seven days, with the average period lasting five days.

Irregular periods can be common during puberty and just before the menopause. Changing your method of contraception can also disturb your normal menstrual cycle.

Keep an eye on your periods so that if you notice changes without an obvious cause, you can track symptoms and see your doctor if you’re concerned.

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