The 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has been a time of unprecedented global stress since its onset. At the beginning of the pandemic, educational institutions and companies closed, and social contacts were strictly forbidden for long periods of time.
For many women, these factors contributed to spending more time on housework and childcare, along with work responsibilities and increased stress from domestic disputes. These daily activities were often associated with a lack of emotional support in the form of outings or talking to friends.
To learn: Higher perceived stress during the COVID-19 pandemic increased menstrual dysregulation and menopausal symptoms. Image source: fizkes/Shutterstock.com
The resulting stress may have affected both physical and mental health. A new study published on the preprint server medRxiv* examines this effect on women’s reproductive health against the background of poor social and health support in the initial phase of the pandemic.
There is a lack of research on the effects of COVID-19 on women. However, because many women have complained of altered menstrual cycles after taking the vaccine, more research has been conducted into how COVID-19 vaccines affect the female reproductive system.
Such anomalies, as well as menopausal disorders, indicate the state of health of the woman and, indirectly, the female metabolic disorder and cardiovascular risk. These factors have been linked to cognitive impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD).
Stress is known to adversely affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal (HPG) axes and subsequently cause menstrual changes. Stress also increases the risk of mental illness.
It has been reported that more women than men have been affected by depression during the pandemic. In fact, there is an indication that these two areas are linked.
Pandemic-related stress can affect mental health and menstrual irregularities simultaneously or sequentially.”
The current study examines the connections between menstrual problems and psychosocial consequences such as anxiety, perceived stress or depression. The data comes from the Rapid Evidence Study of a Provincial Population-Based COhort for GeNder and SEx (RESPPONSE) conducted by the Women’s Health Research Institute in British Columbia, Canada.
In the sample of premenopausal women, over 25% said they had noticed changes in their cycles since March 2020. Of these, 44% complained of heavier or more painful periods, while 25% reported longer bleeding duration compared to premenopausal women. pandemic times.
About 20% of women reported having more periods than before during the pandemic, while one in seven had a shorter period. These symptoms also correlated with those under the age of 40.
In this cohort of women, approximately 7% experienced changes in their postmenopausal status after March 2020. Of these, one in seven had a recurrence of menstrual bleeding, while just over 10% had increased menstrual symptoms. However, it is likely that over 50% had experienced some changes in their postmenopausal status related to public health interventions to combat the pandemic.
Excluding women likely to be in perimenopause, the same proportion of menopausal symptoms associated with the pandemic were reported.
Overall, women with higher levels of stress, depression, or anxiety were more likely to experience menstrual and menopausal symptoms. Pandemic stress was four points higher in those with menstrual irregularities in the premenopausal group, while depression and anxiety scores were double. This was not related to the number of children.
These scores were three points higher in postmenopausal women and about two points higher in those who reported some changes in their symptoms.
It has been shown that women perceive more stress, anxiety and depression than men. Self-reported menstrual cycle disruption in 28% of premenopausal women and altered menopausal symptoms in 7% of the cohort indicate an association with pandemic-related illness before vaccines became widely available. The higher the level of anxiety, depression and stress, the greater the likelihood that the menstrual cycle will change.
Stress has far-reaching effects on mental and physical health, and our findings add to the growing evidence that female reproductive cycles are also affected.”
Interestingly, having more children did not contribute to stress or changes in the woman’s menstrual cycle, ruling out the role of parental responsibilities in causing stress. However, the proportion of women with greater stress was much higher in the younger cohort of premenopausal women. This may be due to age- or stress-related differences in the effect of the pandemic on the HPG axis.
In fact, older women might be less stressed by the pandemic. This would also reflect a lower impact on the endocrine axis.
With emotional lifelines retreating and the difficulty of exercising outside of the home during this time, more research is needed to understand how the pandemic has impacted women’s health.
medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that have not been peer-reviewed and therefore should not be considered conclusive, guide clinical practice/health behavior or treated as established information.