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How long COVID impacts your menstrual health

During stress, the HPA axis stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol to help the body fight off a threat. Increased cortisol levels can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle, explains Dr Sarika Gupta, Senior Consultant, Oncology and Robotic Gynaecology, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi

World Menstrual Hygiene Day, menstrual hygiene, first period, menstrual cycle, menstruation, menstrual health, teenagers, puberty, indian express newsCOVID-19 could affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian-endometrial axis (tightly regulated system controlling female reproduction) with resulting changes to the menstrual cycle.

Written by Dr Sarika Gupta

For the past two years since the pandemic emerged, scientists have been continuously researching COVID-19. While the virus itself has proven to be highly problematic, there have been several cases worldwide where recovered patients faced multiple health issues which they developed over time. It is now proven that this notorious virus not only affects our respiratory organs but in many cases our digestive and cardiovascular functioning as well. Women, in particular, reported some gynaecological issues after recovering from COVID-19.

Many took to social media and shared the issues they faced due to their prolonged illness and the effects of the virus on their menstrual cycle. The most common conditions faced by these people were irregular periods, clotting of the blood, a worsened state of mental health and pre-menstrual syndrome.

Menstrual cycles of a person depend on a lot of factors, both inside and outside their bodies. One of the major factors is hormonal changes and their complex nature. The hormones released in a person’s body and how they interact with different systems like the immune system can influence the severity of the menstrual flow and its duration. COVID-19 could affect the hypothalamic-pituitary-ovarian-endometrial axis (tightly regulated system controlling female reproduction) with resulting changes to the menstrual cycle. In this case fewer or no sex hormones are produced by the ovaries, resulting in further complications. During stress, the HPA axis stimulates the release of the stress hormone cortisol to help the body fight off a threat. Increased cortisol levels can affect a woman’s menstrual cycle.

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If the HPA axis is suppressed fully, a woman may experience amenorrhea, the absence of periods. With partial suppression, a woman could have spotty periods or periods of bleeding every few weeks. Each woman responds differently.

These complications are generally noted in the long infection cases, those in which the patient has been affected by the virus for over two weeks. Due to these irregularities and confusing issues, many women complain of being mentally drained. Women who suffered long COVID, while dealing with infection-induced vascular and digestive complications, had to go through severe menstrual imbalance.

IRREGULARITY IN MENSTRUAL CYCLE: Irregularities in the menstrual cycle are usually considered common as they are the result of hormonal changes a person goes through. But being a Covid-19 patient ups those chances even when you are not going through usual hormonal imbalance. A study published in 2021 in the renowned journal, Reproductive BioMedicine Online, recorded and tracked the menstrual cycles of 177 women suffering from COVID-19. It showed that a majority faced long cycles with a low volume of bleeding. Among patients who had severe cases of Covid-19, 34 per cent faced a cycle longer than 30 days. While there were no significant changes in the sex hormones of the patients, it generally took up to one or two cycles up to two months) to get back on the normal track.

SEXUAL BEHAVIOURAL CHANGES: Women reported a significant change in sexual behaviour post-recovery. Prolonged home isolation and confinement impacted the secretion of serotonin and other hormones, which are majorly responsible for the decrease in libido. Women who took anti-depressants were also highly affected as some of these drugs suppress serotonin in our bodies.

Instead of understanding and mapping the pandemic consequence on gynaecological health, myths and fake news about the vaccine’s impact on fertility were sensationalised. Studies from various renowned medical institutes and research centres across the globe have squashed the claims that vaccination has anything to do with fertility issues. It was found that men faced temporary fertility issues when infected with the virus but bounced back to normal once administered the vaccine.

What should be done to maintain gynaecological health after COVID-19 recovery? Practise meditation, mindfulness, pranayama (controlled breathing), yoga or Taichi (martial art) to maintain mental health as it is important for overall wellbeing. Consume nutritious iron and calcium-rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, milk, cheese, legumes and dried fruits to prevent anaemia, which can otherwise result in heavy and irregular bleeding during periods. Practise medium intensity exercises such as brisk walking, running, swimming, and cycling every day for at least 30 minutes.

Consult your doctor if you experience persistent fatigue, heavy bleeding, spotting between two-period cycles and an abnormal delay in period dates.

Some scientists believe that hormonal imbalances in women affected by COVID-19 result in reproductive health issues. However, other experts feel stress and anxiety as the major reason. More studies are needed to find out the connection between the novel Coronavirus and the reproductive system of women. In the meantime, women must report any irregular bleeding events post-COVID recovery or vaccination to their doctors to prevent adverse consequences.

📣 The above article is for information purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the guidance of your doctor or other qualified health professional for any questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition.

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First published on: 28-06-2022 at 08:43:57 pm
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