Many people with long COVID — who keep experiencing COVID-19 symptoms months after the disease should have subsided — have been pointing out that it has also affected their menstrual cycles. Medical News Today wanted to find out more.
Over the past few months, an increasing number of people worldwide say that after developing COVID-19, they are experiencing a prolonged state of ill health that people now refer to as long COVID.
Existing evidence indicates that COVID-19 symptoms should disappear around 2 weeks after the onset of symptoms.
The reasons why so many people continue to experience disruptive symptoms remains unclear. However, researchers and medical doctors are now starting to look into possible mechanisms and the best ways to support individuals with long COVID.
Most recently, on social media and dedicated support groups, many people with long COVID have spoken about how this prolonged state of illness has affected their menstrual cycles, further impacting their quality of life.
Medical News Today spoke to six people with long COVID who have been experiencing disruptive changes to their menstrual cycles to find out more.*
MNT have also sought the opinions of two medical experts. One is Dr. Linda Fan, assistant professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences and the section chief of Gynecology and the Director of Gynecologic Quality and Safety at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, CT.
The other is Dr. Valinda Nwadike, a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist based in the United States.
Most of the people we spoke to told us that ever since they contracted COVID-19, they have been experiencing irregular periods, unusual clotting of their period blood, or worsened premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
However, while everyone we spoke to had experienced some changes to their menstrual cycle, the form of these disruptions varied.
One contributor, Rose, reported getting irregular periods since she developed COVID-19, months previously.
“I noticed that my menstrual cycles changed immediately when I became ill [with COVID-19],” Rose told us.
“Two weeks into my COVID-19 battle, I was supposed to get my period, and nothing came. I figured to myself, ‘I must be really sick. It will come next month.’ But nothing came the next month, either. Eight months later, and I’ve only had five periods.”
Julia, who is in her mid-40s, developed COVID-19 symptoms in March but had no access to a test. She believes she had long COVID, which has interfered with her menstrual cycle.
“In May, I skipped a whole month’s cycle of having a period. In June and then July, it returned, but [it was] very erratic, lasting a lot longer and stopping and starting,” she explained.
Several people told us that they were worried about an unusual amount of clots in their menstrual discharge or about unusually large clots in the blood.
Bianca, a woman in her late 40s, told us that she only started to experience these changes to her menstrual cycle some time after the initial illness.
“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.”
Louise had a similar experience. “My cycles,” she told us, “have been more irregular — [going from] 24 to 28 days. The first 3 months, I had big clots that were very alarming for me, and I had to take a photo, and I sent it to the [family doctor] who said [that] this is normal.”
Yet, she added, “I know for sure it isn’t normal [for me].” Louise also noticed an increase in the severity of her long COVID symptoms around the time that she would get her period: “A week before my period I would relapse and [also become] more breathless.”
Edith also reported irregular periods and increases in the severity of long COVID symptoms around the time her period is due.
“[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,” she told MNT.
“I will experience extreme, debilitating fatigue, horrible muscle aches that completely lock my body down — and only when I get my period do I realize that that’s why my body felt that way.”
Edith also specified that her doctors diagnosed perimenopause in her case. However, she remains unconvinced by this assessment because of the peculiar timing of these changes to her menstrual cycle.
“[M]y perimenopause status has been attributed to the issues I’ve had with my periods post-COVID, which I don’t feel is at all accurate,” she explained.
Finally, Jean, who has been taking birth control pills for many years, worries because her periods are returning — even though she continues to take contraceptive medication.
She told us that she associates this change with the fact that she is experiencing long COVID. Like Bianca and Louise, she also started noticing unusual clots in her menstrual discharge.
“I have been taking birth control pills for 10 years. During this period, I [did] not get my periods. At ‘worst,’ I [used to have] spotting once a year. Since getting ill, I have been consistently getting my monthly periods, getting shorter periods, getting a ton of clots (more than I’ve gotten in my life combined).”