Maybe the 2% risk in condoms happened to me! Or maybe I caught an STD that one time I wasn’t careful. The next move would be consulting Dr Google and reading about syndromes, chronic diseases or rare cases of unplanned pregnancies. And just like that we have spent the next few days worrying and stressing out even more.
Although this is probably a normal reaction when we observe an irregular period, the problem is that we are not completely aware of the regularities of menstrual cycles and health. A better understanding of the norms of periods affects the quality of our lives, making it important that everyone becomes aware through menstrual health literacy and better health communication.
Not all women and people who menstruate experience typical menstrual bleeding. Up to 30% report alterations in volume or pattern of their blood flow. Changes in our cycles can have a huge impact on our physical, mental and social well-being, so it is useful to understand that there are a lot of reasons that our periods might be late, early, heavy or short and sometimes there is more than one at the same time. Reading through papers, the most mentioned factors that affect our hormones and in turn our periods are stress, sleep, eating habits, temperature and exercise. However, these factors can be the result of other changes in our daily lives.
Stress is unfortunately a deeply integrated part of our lives and among other things, it can also impact our periods. Simply put, it causes an imbalance in our hormones that might cause delays or alter the blood flow. Moreover, recent research has showed that the Covid-19 pandemic has affected menstrual cycles due to increased levels of stress and psychological distress. Namely, 46% reported changes in their periods, 53% talked about more intense period symptoms and 9% of women missed their periods since the beginning of the pandemic.
Eating and sleeping habits
Eating and sleeping habits can also affect our periods. Very low or very high body weight can cause imbalances in our hormones and in cases of anorexia, bulimia or obesity we might even miss periods. High caffeine consumption might also block the hormones that help our blood flow, causing heavier periods and irregularities. Birth control, next day pills or other hormonal treatments will also take their toll. Our sleep might be disturbed by the weather, our schedules or even travelling. Not completing a proper amount of sleeping hours or experiencing jet lag might again make our periods come earlier, later or heavier.
Finally, the weather and our working out habits are also factors we need to consider before we freak out. When we have a typical working out routine and we suddenly stop it, reduce it or significantly increase it, it will affect our moods, bodies and of course our menstrual cycles. It is well reported that high intensity cardio workouts cause period delays. Furthermore, during cold weather our blood vessels compress causing less blood flow and increased pain. Our metabolism gets slower causing longer cycles until our bodies adapt to the weather changes. Sunlight and vitamin D intake would help our ovaries be more active, thus the lack of it would affect our reproductive systems as well! Last but not least, climate change affects our lives way more than we think it does. Eating foods in seasons we are not supposed to, tempers with our body temperature and affect our periods in different ways.
In the end, everything is connected, the weather will affect our eating and sleeping habits, which in turn will affect our working out plan and our mood. Our daily lives will cause us more or less stress, and all these changes will be reflected in our hormones and menstruation cycles. But it goes without saying, that when we observe more often irregularities and symptoms, we should always consult our gyno.
For those of you who are used to punctual and “normal” periods, who suddenly notice an irregularity once or twice, take a deep breath and think about the simple things you’ve changed first. You might not be pregnant, or suffering from a syndrome, instead you just might have had too much coffee to drink or overdid it with the cardio lately. It is good to know that there is no “normal” period and it is different for everybody and every person. The more we know about menstrual cycles and the more we become aware of how things work in our reproductive systems, the better our mental and psychological well-being will be along with the quality of our lives.
To all the women, menstruators, and people with vaginas out there who on top of everything else also struggle with their periods, you are not alone, we all go through the same issues and we are spreading the word. Menstrual health literacy and communication is necessary and omgyno is here to help!
Some changes may be normal and not a cause for concern, however, in cases where we notice severe abnormalities in our cycle, we should talk with a gynecologist.
If you need the advice of a specialist, you can go to our telehealth page and have an online session with one of our gynecologists, to discuss your concerns.
Words by: Chrysiida Psarri