When was the last time you noticed a change in your menstrual cycle? Personally, mine's been shifting gradually over the last three months. My cycle has always been on the shorter side, with my period consistently happening every 23 days for as long as I can remember. But as we drag into month three of the coronavirus pandemic and social distancing, I've noticed my cycle has slowed to every 26 days. While I can't say I'm sad to have more time between periods, it does have me wondering: is my quarantine lifestyle to blame? Just how much of an impact can changes to how we eat, sleep, exercise and occupy our time have on our reproductive health?
Turns out, quite a bit. "Lifestyle changes can absolutely impact your period," says board certified gynecologist Dr. Wendy Hurst. "Periods are a measure of overall health. There are many major life changes that have occurred during this pandemic that could impact periods. A cycle change can be caused by a fluctuation in weight or activity, from being more sedentary and not being able to get to the gym. It can be caused by what we're eating and how often we're eating now that we're home all the time. It can be caused by physical or psychological stress. And if somebody has been ill, they may have their period change as part of their body's response."
There are many aspects of the current situation that are causing fear for women " whether it's fear over their health, the health of a loved one, caring for their family, losing their job. That stress can really throw someone's period off.
So if, like me, you're noticing a difference in your period right now, should you do anything about it? Dr. Hurst stresses that trying to maintain good habits during these unusual times will help your body maintain its regular cycle. "Eat well, and get enough sleep," she says. "Make sure you're engaging in some type of physical activity every day." Difficult as it may be right now, trying to maintain as many aspects of your old, pre-coronavirus routine as possible should help your reproductive health keep its routine, in turn.
Equally important as maintaining your routine, is knowing when changes in your cycle signal it's time to seek medical care. If you're concerned about your period " if it's much longer than usual, or much heavier than usual " contact your doctor. One positive outcome of the coronavirus is that telehealth has seen tremendous growth over the last few months, so there's a good chance you can get your symptoms checked without even having to leave your couch.
Your doctor will be able to determine over the call whether an in-person visit is necessary. If you do end up needing to go to your provider's facility for a follow-up, don't worry. "At this point, emergency rooms and doctors' offices are prepared," reassures Dr. Hurst. "Protocol is in place and every step is being taken to maintain a safe, healthy environment for patients who need to come in during the pandemic."
Finally, know that if all the recent lifestyle changes are throwing your period off, you're not alone. "Every single woman I've seen recently " whether at my office or by telemedicine " is experiencing higher-than-normal stress right now," says Dr. Hurst. "There are many aspects of the current situation that are causing this " whether it's fear over their health, the health of a loved one, caring for their family, missing school, or losing their job. There is this significant angst being experienced by everyone. That kind of stress can really throw someone's period off. I am seeing it all the time."
Have lifestyle changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic affected your period or reproductive health? Tell us about it in the comments.