The global pandemic is affecting people in different ways all over the world. It’s affecting how we greet people, how we work and how we even educate our children. The coronavirus COVID-19 has exposed some of the many health disparities affecting the African American community. While it’s making us much more attentive to health issues like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, it’s also affecting women in a unique way: menstrual periods.
The stress from this pandemic can and has impacted both our mental and physical health, including our periods. Some folks with underlying anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are feeling triggered right now. Likewise, stress may influence cycle length, vaginal bleeding patterns, painful periods, and premenstrual symptoms.
“If you get COVID-19, it’s a stress on the body and a major stress on the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the body’s central stress response system,” says Dr. Tara Shirazian. She’s the director of Global Women’s Health and an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Health in New York City.
With complete suppression of the HPA axis, a woman may experience amenorrhea, the absence of periods. But don’t freak out yet with thinking you may be pregnant. With partial suppression, a woman could have spotty periods or periods of bleeding every few weeks. “There isn’t one clear pattern we can expect — women respond differently to suppression of the HPA axis,” Shirazian says.
“I think it’s a combination of stress and the upheaval of everyone’s normal routines. People are suddenly taking their pills at different times because they not on a regular schedule anymore. People are also changing their eating and activity habits. All of those things are at play and can affect your hormones,” says Dr. Beth Schwartz, a gynecologist at Jefferson.
What about Period Products?
“A stress-induced period is certainly possible if you have an IUD. When you have an IUD, your ovaries are not being controlled in the way that the pill or shot controls and suppresses ovarian activity. It makes even more sense in that scenario that there could be fluctuations in hormones or ovarian function,” Dr. Schwartz continues.
While you are practicing social distancing and being vigilant about handwashing and sanitizing around the house (along with everything else) due to COVID-19, we should practice the same type of hygiene care with your period products. Boil anything made of
silicon after use. Wash reusable pads and underwear with soap in hot water. Wash your hands vigorously for at least 20 seconds before and after you change your blood collection product.
When using disposable period products like pads or tampons, wrap the used product in the wrapper of the new product so that any menstrual blood is not exposed.
If you’re experiencing irregular bleeding on the pill, you should stop bleeding on day one or two after your placebo pill week. If bleeding doesn’t stop, then let your doctor know. The same goes for if you’re experiencing really heavy bleeding for more than one to two days—like soaking through a super pad or tampon in less than an hour. Feeling lightheaded or dizzy, chest pain, feeling like your heart is beating very quickly, or getting out of breath much easier than normal could be signs of anemia. These are all things you need to tell your doctor right away so they can rule out anything more serious or dangerous.