As the COVID-19 pandemic continues into its third year, the virus’s long- and short-term side effects are becoming better understood. Some people who menstruate have reported changes in their menstrual cycles due to COVID-19, and they have many questions, including “Can COVID-19 make your period late?” and “Can COVID-19 affect your menstrual cycle in other ways?” Research is continuing, but some answers have started to become clearer.
For most people who menstruate, periods last four to seven days. Some examples of “atypical” menstruation include periods that last longer than seven days, periods that occur less than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, periods that are accompanied by severe or unusual pain or nausea, menstrual flow that is much heavier or lighter than usual (“usual” varies from person to person), and missing three (or more) periods in row.
These symptoms may not indicate a medical problem and do overlap with symptoms of perimenopause and menopause, which are normal parts of growing older.
The short answer is yes — the COVID-19 virus has the potential to affect your menstrual cycle in a variety of ways. Not everyone who menstruates will see changes, but some might. Some side effects that have been reported include:
• Lighter periods
• Heavier periods
• Irregular periods
• Missed periods
A 2021 study performed, in part, to determine whether COVID-19 caused changes in menstruation in women of childbearing age found several such side effects. In the study, 25 percent of women (out of 177) reported a change in the heaviness of their period, and 19 percent reported longer than normal cycles.
Pandemic stress is real, and stress can affect menstruation. People who menstruate may experience missed, irregular, or lighter periods. A recent Northwestern Medicine study found that increased stress levels related to COVID-19 led to menstrual-cycle irregularities. The study surveyed more than 200 people who menstruate, and more than half of that group (54 percent) had experienced changes in their menstrual cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study found that people who had experienced higher levels of stress were more likely to experience heavier menstrual bleeding and a longer duration of their period, compared with those who had moderate stress levels.
Vaccines remain the best protection against severe or life-threatening COVID-19 symptoms, and it’s recommended that all eligible people receive their vaccine and a booster shot.
A very small number of people have reported mild menstruation-related side effects after taking one of the COVID-19 vaccines. A recent study found that some women had a slightly longer menstrual cycle after receiving a COVID-19 vaccination, but the change was temporary and fell within the range of normal variation.
In the United Kingdom, as of February 2, 2022, 38,533 people had reported changes to their menstrual cycle related to a COVID-19 vaccine. People reported heavier periods, bleeding between periods, and delayed periods. This number is out of 71.8 million COVID 19 vaccine doses that had been administered to people who menstruate, making it a very small percentage.
There is no evidence that the COVID-19 vaccine and fertility are connected in any way. The vaccine has not been shown to have any adverse effects in terms of a later ability to conceive and bear children. Conversely, COVID-19 itself has been proven to have a potential negative effect on fertility.
Studies continue to be done to determine the effects of COVID-19 and COVID-19 vaccines on menstrual cycles. The National Institute of Child Health and Development (NICHD) has started to support research regarding periods before and after the COVID-19 vaccine.
There are many factors that might affect menstruation. Illnesses, medical conditions, medications, and lifestyle factors can all have an effect. If you are concerned about changes to your menstrual cycle, make an appointment to speak with a healthcare provider. Some causes of changes to menstruation include:
• Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
• Pelvic inflammatory disorder (PID)
• Uterine polyps or fibroids
• Pregnancy and breastfeeding
• Thyroid disease
• Birth control medications
For many people, menstruation can be difficult to discuss — because of cultural norms or some social stigmas associated with bodily functions related to sex and reproduction. This “taboo” can make it difficult for people to get the help they need. If you have concerns about changes in your menstrual cycle, you should always discuss them with your healthcare provider, who will not be uncomfortable talking about anything related to your health and physical well-being. (For tips on bringing up these kinds of topics with your healthcare team, read “How to Discuss ‘Embarrassing’ Topics with Your Doctor.”)
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published. But note that our knowledge and understanding of COVID-19 are developing and changing very rapidly; if you have questions or concerns about COVID-19 precautions, treatments, and vaccinations, please talk to your healthcare provider.