Long COVID and periods: The unspoken impact on female well-being
Article By: Gemma Mullin
Article By: Gemma Mullin
Women who have recovered from coronavirus say they have noticed changes to their periods
FROM fatigue to pain and breathlessness, thousands have been left crippled by lingering symptoms long after fighting off coronavirus.
But now a new symptom of so-called long Covid has emerged - and it's only affecting women.
There have been wide reports on social media that the prolonged illness has caused "alarming" changes to women's menstrual cycles.
Some say they are now experiencing irregular periods, while others have distressingly noticed unusually large blood clots.
One woman, named Rose, said she noticed two weeks into her Covid battle that her period didn't come as she would have expected.
She told Medical News Today that in the eight months since she's recovered from the virus, she's only had five periods.
Another woman, named Bianca, said she only started to experience changes to her menstrual cycle some time after recovering from Covid.
She said: “I didn’t notice anything different during the initial onslaught of Covid.
"It wasn’t until 3 months later […] when some symptoms came back that I noticed a change. I noticed an increase in clots — but quite a bit.”
Edith, who says she has also had period changes since being infected with Covid, told MNT: “[My periods] have changed in frequency, duration, flow, intensity, and pain level. I also experience Covid symptom flare-ups before my period starts, which is rather confusing because my periods are unpredictable."
Experts have recognised breathlessness, muscle aches and excessive fatigue as being among the wide-ranging symptoms that have been identified in those who have previously contracted the virus.
However, it remains unclear why menstrual cycles might be affected by Covid long after recovering from the bug.
Some suggest that it could be that SARS-CoV-2 - the virus that causes Covid - could attack the female reproductive organs.
Dr Linda Fan, assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine, told MNT the research published on the virus so far is sparse.
However, she suggests there is some "biological plausibility" that it could "attack ovarian function" based on some of the effect it's had on other organs.
One small study in China, published in Reproductive BioMedicine Online in September, found 25 per cent of people with Covid have menstrual changes.
Of the 117 participants, all patients at Tongji Hospital in Shanghai, 30 per cent reported lighter bleeding or longer-lasting periods.
Commenting on the study, gynaecologist Dr Shree Datta, for intimate wellbeing brand INTIMINA, said: "It’s not uncommon for viral infections to have an impact on female hormones, periods and fertility.
"Whilst the evidence is limited, there’s nothing yet to suggest a long term impact on fertility, but transient changes to periods have been reported in some women who have had Covid-19.
"It’s important to note that the stress of living through a pandemic and the lifestyle changes this has triggered may also influence your hormonal balance, resulting in changes to your periods."
Dr Fan also reassured women that while a delayed period or two can be disconcerting, it "should not cause too much anxiety in the setting of Covid-19 infection".
But she did urge anyone who has experienced changes to their menstrual cycle and is concerned to speak to their GP.
Experts from the National Institute for Health Research warn long Covid is not one single condition, but could actually be four different syndromes.
In October, a group of doctors affected by long Covid called for an action plan in tackling the long-term health effects of the virus.
A letter signed by 39 doctors said there was an "emerging picture" that long-term symptoms of the virus were having a substantial impact on a significant minority of people.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has acknowledged that long Covid exists and said that work "is being done on it".
With thousands of people thought to have long Covid, it's unsurprising that support groups have started to emerge on social media.
One known as the Post Covid Syndrome Group now has 3,000 members from more than 60 countries.