A new study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology analyzed self-reported data from 354 American women between the ages of 18 and 45. The study’s participants were asked in May 2021 to answer questions about pandemic-related stress levels and any potential changes to their menstrual cycle.
The population examined was racially and geographically diverse. The study assessed only women and did not include any non-binary or transgender people, who also have periods.
More than half of the women involved in the study indicated a change in their menstrual cycle since the start of the pandemic. These changes included early or late periods, fluctuation in period duration and increased frequency of spotting. Twelve per cent of all women said they experienced all of the above changes.
The study reported a significant correlation between high levels of pandemic stress and menstrual change. Women who claimed to have greater COVID-19-related anxiety were deemed more likely to experience one or more of the aforementioned period changes.
Younger women and women with pre-existing mental health conditions reported higher levels of pandemic-related stress and were more likely to experience changes in their menstrual cycle.
Within the study, researchers also reported that women experienced higher stress levels than men during the pandemic, along with a disproportionate share of child-care and housework duties.
The study claimed that the increase in stress among women is dangerous to their “reproductive goals” and their mental, respiratory and cardiovascular health.
The study’s lead researcher, Martina Anto-Ocrah, told the Washington Post that its purpose extends beyond menstruation into a broader conversation about the well-being of women. She said the study’s results are “alarming.”
Anto-Ocrah referenced the gender bias in health care, specifically how women have historically been excluded from medical research.
“Women are constantly being told, ‘This is in your head,'” Anto-Ocrah told the outlet. “Until we get some data to show that what is in women’s heads is actually the truth, the medical society kind of turns us away and doesn’t believe it.”
In Canada, women were also more likely to experience higher levels of stress than men during the pandemic.
According to Statistics Canada, “this could be linked to the fact that women were more likely to report performing most parental tasks by themselves—specifically, staying at home with children and taking children to or from school or daycare — which, in and of itself, can lead to increased stress levels.”