Ever since the lockdown last year, Swaraj Gandhi* (27), has had abnormal menstrual bleeding, ranging from excessive to scant flow. Her menstrual cycle has also become erratic, coupled with immense stomach ache - a new phenomenon for her.
"Initially, I didn't bother much, but by September, I was thoroughly troubled and spoke to my gynaecologist. That was when I got to know that it is my anxiety and stress that is causing all of this. I am on medication now," she says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has damaged the menstrual health and many women are complaining of irregular periods. "A lot of women are taking online consultations for period irregularities delayed and frequent cycles with abnormal bleeding patterns. There has been a rise of 15-20 per cent in such cases in the last few months," says Dr Tanveer Aujla, Senior Consultant, Obstetrics & Gynaecologist, Motherhood Hospital, Noida.
"Many of my patients have complained of irregular periods. While talking to them, I realised that these women are feeling very stressed as the pandemic has spoiled their daily routine," says Dr Shobha Gupta, Medical Director, Mother’s Lap IVF Centre, Pitampura.
"High stress means high cortisol that can wreak havoc on the hypothalamus/pituitary/ovary interaction to result in irregular periods," says Mayur Vihar based gynaecologist, Dr Anjali Sood. "While there is no concrete evidence linking stress with infertility, 40 per cent of women who are under high stress complain of infertility," says Dr Gupta.
Hot flashes and painful breasts are extra add ons during the pandemic, says Dr Gupta while citing an example of a patient: "This woman is a bank employee. Tests showed that she was suffering from high levels of prolactin (which was messing up her menstrual cycle), released because of high stress which she was under over the fear of catching COVID-19 infection."
The non-availability of sanitary napkins is also a big worry. "Many women do not have access to proper menstrual products, especially those from the lower economic strata. The situation worsened during the pandemic because with heightened financial stress, the priorities have shifted towards purchasing food over proper menstrual hygiene materials. Even the priority of the government and other health agencies has shifted towards saving lives. All this has made women highly vulnerable to diseases," says Dr Ranjana Becon, Gynaecologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Ghaziabad.
Hormonal imbalance & PCOS
The fact that no one really knows when the pandemic will end has deepened the panic. Coupled with an unhealthy lifestyle, it can exacerbate pre-existing hormonal imbalances in women. "Stress can even cause Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). If you had been borderline PCOS all along, the pandemic stress might push you over to the other side," says Dr Anubha Singh, Gynaecologist and IVF from Shantah Fertility Centre, Vasant Vihar.
Consuming an unhealthy diet also interferes with hormonal balance, say doctors. "Women are bingeing on unhealthy fried fast foods to combat stress. Such food disturbs the estrogen-progesterone secretion. Stress can also increase the imbalance of insulin in the body which causes the secretion of the leptin hormone," says Dr Shweta Goswami, Sr Consultant Gynaecologist and IVF, Jaypee Hospital and Zeeva Fertility Noida.
If hormonal imbalances persist for long it could cause hair fall, stomach bloating, a lack of concentration and may lead to impaired fertility.
(*Name changed to protect identity)