Stress of the pandemic linked with changes in women’s reproductive health, new study finds

Trudy Feenane

More than half of reproductive-age women saw a change to their menstrual cycle, according to a new study, as researchers state that the COVID-19 pandemic “continues to bear a significant impact on female reproductive health”.

The study, which was conducted by researchers from Trinity College Dublin in April, surveyed 1,355 women of reproductive age. It came after a significant number of women reported changes to their menstrual cycles during the pandemic. 

The 56 per cent of women who experienced such changes, included reports of heavier and more painful periods and missed periods, compared to pre-pandemic, the authors said, while 64 per cent of women reported worsening premenstrual symptoms (PMS). 

Common PMS symptoms include mood swings, fatigue, appetite changes and acne flare-ups, according to Mayo Clinic.

But what is the link between changes to women’s reproductive health and the pandemic?

Researchers point to the increased psychological stress brought on during COVID-19, poor sleep, and increased levels of anxiety and depression as being more than double those from pre-pandemic levels for women of reproductive age. All of these factors are likely to affect menstrual cycles. 

Another key finding of the study shows that 54 per cent of women have experienced a reduced sex drive compared to pre-pandemic times, an aspect the authors relate back to the increased levels of depression and anxiety in menstruating women over the course of the pandemic, alongside the changes to sleep patterns.

Dr Michelle Maher, a researcher behind the study, said: “Our findings highlight a real need to provide appropriate medical care and mental health support to women affected by menstrual disturbance, given the unprecedented psychological burden associated with the pandemic.

“We would encourage women experiencing any reproductive disturbances – such as irregular, missed periods, painful or heavy periods, PMS or reduced sex drive – as well as mental health disturbances, including symptoms of low mood, anxiety, stress and poor sleep, to see their GP for advice.”

Being the first study of its kind that looks into the relationship between women’s reproductive health and the pandemic, the study authors call for further research into the field. This will add to the follow up surveys the authors plan to conduct every six months to determine and identify longer-terms effects. 

Trudy Feenane

Image credit: Vladislav Muslakov on Unsplash