Most of us have had some aspect of our lives upended since March of 2020 when the COVID-19 global pandemic was officially declared. Endless questions have circled since around contracting the coronavirus, vaccines, and the implications of both for long-term health. For women and those who have menstrual periods, it begs the additional question of if and how the virus and vaccines can affect those who menstruate.
Experts maintain the menstrual cycle is already a challenge to study since everyone who menstruates has a unique experience, and that there are many other factors at play when it comes to monthly cycles. These factors include things like hydration, activity, stress levels, diet, getting enough sleep, and emotional well-being—all of which can reasonably be affected by any illness or any vaccine, as well as a number of other reasons.
Our team at Put A Cup In It hosted discussions around these topics and launched a survey to hear from the community about the concerns and experiences of individuals whose period may have been affected by contracting COVID-19 (we’re happy to share: you can find live results here), or by getting a COVID-19 vaccine. While experts don’t have all the answers yet, we’ll share what is known and what’s been reported so far by individuals who menstruate.
Will contracting COVID-19 change my menstrual cycle?
So far, there hasn’t been a ton of research done on COVID-19 and menstrual cycles. In one study that focused on sex hormones and menstruation related to COVID-19, 25% of individuals reported changes in their menstrual cycle, with the majority experiencing heavier periods. It also found that those who contracted more severe cases of COVID-19 were more likely to have longer cycles, or more days between periods. No difference in hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone was found between individuals who did and did not have COVID-19. This study consisted of of 237 patients with confirmed COVID-19; 117 from whom menstrual data was collected.
Of those surveyed anonymously by Put A Cup In It in September 2021, 70% reported no changes in their menstrual cycle after having COVID-19. For those who did experience changes in their menstrual cycle, the most highly reported were noticeably heavier periods (36%) and more premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms such as cramps, migraines, or mood changes (39%). When we asked participants if their cycles returned to normal, 46% answered yes. While the survey remains open, at the time of data collection for this article, there were roughly 900 participants.
Will getting a COVID-19 vaccine affect my period?
In the United States there are three major approved vaccines for COVID-19: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. While there hasn’t been much research done on vaccines and menstruation changes, many girls, women, and people who menstruate have reported changes in their menstrual cycle after having been vaccinated.
A recent New York Times article highlighted the upcoming research that will happen at places like Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, and Oregon Health & Science University. It’s important to stress that any suggestions about vaccines effect on menstruation are “purely anecdotal” at this point, meaning there is no definitive link between the two at this time.
The article also highlights the gap in what experts currently know about reproductive health and menstrual cycles at all. Dr. Hugh Taylor of the Yale School of Medicine asks an important question, highlighting exactly why this upcoming research is so essential. He says,
“A lot of people have irregular menstruation for all sorts of reasons, so is this really different in people with the vaccine, or is it just that when people have it, they are linking it to the vaccine?”
Of the respondents of the Put A Cup In It COVID-19 survey we put forward, 61% said they experienced changes in their cycle after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine. Among those, almost 45% reported noticeably heavier periods, compared to 17% who experience lighter periods. 39% experienced more PMS symptoms, and barely 5% reported fewer PMS symptoms. Almost 40% of participants said their menstrual cycle had returned to normal after getting a COVID-19 vaccines.
Will my cycle be affected by being near someone who received a COVID-19 vaccine?
The short and firm answer? NO. This is a question that we’re not waiting for the science to answer and we have a clear verdict on. Despite some internet theories and seemingly believable claims, being in the same room or in close proximity to someone who has had a COVID-19 vaccine will not affect your menstrual cycle. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) clearly states:
“No. Your menstrual cycle cannot be affected by being near someone who received a COVID-19 vaccine. Many things can affect menstrual cycles, including stress, changes in your schedule, problems with sleep, and changes in diet or exercise. Infections may also affect menstrual cycles.”
What other symptoms have been reported?
Just like any menstrual cycle, the reports from those we surveyed varied widely. While some experienced earlier periods after getting a vaccine, others reported their periods were much later (as many as 18 days after expected).
Another factor a lot of respondents mentioned in the comments section was their age, with older participants noting that changes in their menstrual cycle could also be related to that.
Some reported another possible influence on their menstruation, unrelated to COVID-19 or vaccines, was a change in hormonal birth control. While some were switching from oral contraceptives to IUDs (intrauterine device), others were starting and even stopping birth control altogether.
If I’ve experienced period changes since having COVID-19 or a vaccine, should I worry?
It may be easier said than done, but take a deep breath and try not to worry. You have the ability to be in control of this part. If you are experiencing changes and your intuition is telling you there may be more to it, we always suggest talking with a trusted healthcare provider. At many offices you can call and speak to a nurse line right away. Sometimes it’s fear and anxiety talking (which would be more than understandable given all that we are collectively living through) but sometimes it’s not that simple and having your concerns heard and checked out is always worthwhile — even if the outcome is peace of mind.
We feel it’s important to reiterate one solid fact: there are almost endless elements that can influence a person’s menstrual cycle. In addition, there simply haven’t been enough studies conducted regarding reproductive and menstrual health at all, let alone in relation to COVID-19 and vaccines. This is a fact which we hope will start to change with the launching of new studies funded by the National Institute of Health.