Can COVID Change Your Period? An OB-GYN Weighs In
After Leslie Draffin, a certified menstrual cycle coach, was diagnosed with COVID, her period was late by almost two weeks – and it turns out, that kind of experience isn’t uncommon.
Amanda Christodoulou (aka @The.Holistic.Mama), a certified integrative health practitioner who specializes in women’s health, posted a TikTok asking if anyone had COVID during their period, and how it affected them. The video received over 3,000 comments with many sharing that the virus seemed to alter their menstruation, either temporarily or long-term. One user, for example, shared that they have an IUD and “don’t have a period ever,” yet “had a period the whole time” they had COVID.
In April 2022, research confirmed widespread suspicions that the COVID-19 vaccine does have an effect on menstruation: Out of nearly 4,000 menstruators, about 42 percent reported changes to their period after receiving the vaccine, such as longer cycles and heavier flows. But what about a COVID infection – can that affect your period, too? Here’s what we know.
Does COVID Affect Your Period?
The simple answer: Yes. However, the extent of COVID-19’s impact on the menstrual cycle is still largely unknown, with only a few recent studies and anecdotal evidence.
For example, a study published in February 2022 found that 16 percent of study participants reported changes in their menstrual cycle after having COVID-19, including irregular menstruation and an increase in period symptoms. Similarly, a study published in June 2022 found that 47 percent of participants reported a change in cycle length as well as the amount of blood lost. Both studies indicated the need for further investigation of COVID’s effect on reproductive health – and specifically to evaluate how long these menstrual irregularities last.
In terms of anecdotal evidence, people have flocked to social media to compare notes. One Reddit user shared, “After I recovered from Covid my next period was really late. It ended up being a 45 day cycle which I thought was crazy. I know illness can delay ovulation but this was the longest cycle I had ever had.” Meanwhile, many commenters on Christodoulou’s aforementioned TikTok shared that they had two periods in one month, or that their periods were longer and heavier after having COVID.
Alyssa Dweck MS, MD, FACOG, gynecologist and spokesperson for feminine care brand INTIMINA, confirms that she’s seen multiple patients with absent or altered menstruation after both COVID infection and vaccination. However, it’s usually temporary, she says, and only requires a bit of reassurance. Dr. Dweck notes that she’s also seen patients in menopause suddenly menstruate again after having COVID.
Why Does COVID Affect Your Cycle?
Physical stress – including the stress of getting sick, injured, or changing your workout routine, for example – can mess with your cycle, according to the Cleveland Clinic, and that could be one reason behind COVID-related period changes. “Getting sick from COVID can create a longer menstrual cycle because your body is focused on getting better, not ovulating,” Draffin says. “Stress is the biggest impactor on our menstrual cycles so yes, getting sick can wreak havoc in both the short and long term. [You] may experience changes to [your] cycles or miss their periods altogether because of the various ways COVID impacts overall health.”
As Draffin says, it’s well known that stress (whether physical, mental, or emotional) can cause changes to your menstrual cycle, whether your period comes earlier, arrives late, or disappears. This is because stress can cause a wave of hormonal changes that affect lots of bodily processes, including menstruation. “When the body is under perceived stress, it will give preferential treatment to stress-hormone production,” Christodoulou says. This may affect your body’s reproductive hormones, “especially progesterone, which plays a huge role in when we ovulate and the symptoms that come along with our menstrual cycle,” she says. As a result of those hormone changes, you may see changes in your cycle length, flow, and consistency.
Even if you weren’t infected with COVID, you may have experienced period changes from the pandemic’s overall effects on our everyday life. And a recent study published in “Obstetrics & Gynecology” found that pandemic-related stress impacted the length, duration, flow, and frequency of people’s menstrual cycles compared to before the pandemic. “So, if you’re isolated from loved ones, unable to work, or are worried about getting sick – you may also experience period problems,” Draffin says.
Overall, research suggests that menstrual changes brought about by COVID infection are temporary, Dr. Dweck says, but “longer-term COVID implications are likely still being researched.” If you’ve been experiencing irregular periods for several months or things are otherwise feeling off, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor.