How Stress Affects The Menstrual Cycle During the last days we have surely heard of a possible “baby boom” as a consequence of the quarantine caused by COVID-19. Regardless of whether this is a real possibility or not, some women may have noticed that we are having delays regarding our menstruation or, directly, not having it.
Of course, this may be a sign of pregnancy – and it is recommended that we do a test to rule it out – but it can also be a response to the stress and anxiety situation we are experiencing. Anxiety can also affect us physically and, among other things, our reproductive health. High levels of stress can cause hormonal changes that alter our menstrual cycle and cause us to experience delays in menstruation.
The main cause is alterations at the hypothalamic level. In a normal situation, the female hypothalamus intermittently releases a hormone known as GnRH, whose function is to release gonadotrophins and that stimulates the pituitary. When it receives GnRH, it proceeds with the release of other key hormones in menstruation: FHS and LH.
The latter are responsible for ovulation, since thanks to them the follicles develop in the ovary and estrogens and progesterone are produced. The problem is that, with high levels of stress, the release of the GnrH hormone can be altered. If in a normal situation this release occurs intermittently, due to stress it can occur continuously.
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This would cause the release of FSH and LH to be inhibited, which would directly impact our ovulation and, therefore, our menstrual cycle. This may be one of the reasons that we have delays in menstruation these days. Not only that, but the pituitary is also prolactin-releasing. The greatest release of this hormone occurs for the production of breast milk during lactation. However, stress can also cause prolactin release to increase.
When this occurs at a time when the woman is not breastfeeding, it can also cause disorders in the menstrual cycle and help us to suffer disorders. To this we must add that the pituitary is also controlling the thyroid gland. Disruption of this gland may also be involved in changes in the menstrual cycle. Alterations in our monthly cycle may not be the only consequences that stress causes in us. If we suffer any of them, together with a menstrual delay, it may be an even clearer sign that what happens to us is the result of stress and anxiety.
Daytime and nighttime bruxism: During high-stress stages, it is common for us to clench our jaws and grind our teeth. This can happen especially while we sleep, but we can also find ourselves doing it during the day. Loss of muscle mass: periods of stress can cause alterations in the hormone cortisol. This could generate some mobilization of proteins for energy and this would lead to loss of muscle mass and an increase in fat mass.Tension headache: A high level of tension and stress can cause tension headaches, caused by the tension or contraction of the muscles of the neck or scalp, and even migraines.
It is completely normal that in a situation like the present one we suffer an increase in stress levels and, although we can try to alleviate this anxiety a little and make it more bearable, it can be a good idea to be understanding of ourselves and the situation. In any case, if we have delays in our menstruation during these days and we have had sexual relations, it is important that we do a pregnancy test to be able to rule it out, regardless of whether or not we have other symptoms of stress.