How does stress affect periods?

Late menstruation , absent menstruation: the menstrual cycle depends on hormones whose fragile balance can be disturbed by various factors. At the forefront of which: the real stress scourge of our modern society whose devastating effects on the body affect many women. How does stress affect periods? We review the different effects this great cycle disruptor can have on our periods.


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Stress, hormones and the menstrual cycle: the infernal triangle

To cope with stress, the body secretes a certain number of hormones in excessive quantities compared to normal. These include secretions of adrenaline (nicknamed the warrior hormone) and cortisol (aptly nicknamed the stress hormone). And it is on this second hormone, cortisol, that we are going to look.

Let's introduce! Ordinarily, cortisol secreted by the adrenal glands is a vital hormone that regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, helps in bone development and acts as a natural anti-inflammatory. In times of stress, cortisol is released in high quantities, which can affect, among other things:

  • progesterone and estrogen secretions (reduced progesterone and increased estrogen with potential effects on ovulation);
  • the production of GABA, a neurotransmitter capable of reducing pain (decreased production of GABA with potential effects on premenstrual syndrome);
  • thyroid function (cortisol suppresses TSH secretion and prevents the thyroid gland from producing the T4 hormone with potential effects on ovarian function).

Amenorrhea: can stress stop menstruation?

Prolonged exposure to severe stress can lead to complete missed periods. We speak of amenorrhea when menstruation is absent for more than three consecutive months. Other psychological factors can explain this phenomenon and it is sometimes difficult to disentangle our mental states: state of shock, depression, anxiety.

In any case, before thinking about stress, it is necessary to rule out certain physical reasons:

  • pregnancy (to be sure, don't hesitate to take a pregnancy test);
  • prolonged breastfeeding (we speak of lactational amenorrhea during which women do not have periods and do not ovulate);
  • hormonal contraception (contraceptive pill, hormonal IUD , contraceptive implant can reduce bleeding or even cause an absence of periods);
  • surgical intervention on the uterus (curettage, conization, amputation of the cervix, etc.);
  • premature or physiological menopause ;
  • ovarian dystrophy or polycystic ovary syndrome;
  • autoimmune disease (type I diabetes, lupus, myasthenia gravis, Crohn's disease, rheumatoid arthritis, etc.);
  • anorexia (the absence of menstruation affects about 90% of patients with anorexia).

Scanty periods due to stress, is it possible?

Mental stress can have repercussions on the ovaries. This time we are talking about ovarian failure which will result in a light flow during menstruation. This phenomenon occurs mainly at the time of the first menstruation during puberty or at the time of menopause. While having light bleeding is not in itself problematic, these symptoms can help us identify deeper disorders that could lead to complications. To monitor !

Irregularity and disruption, when stress plays with the length of your cycle

Your menstrual cycle is irregular ? Sometimes it lasts 45 days, sometimes 15? If you notice this irregularity from time to time, there is nothing to worry about. You may have had a difficult month… On the other hand, if this phenomenon persists, it is necessary to consult a gynecologist, because these irregularities in the level of hormones could be linked to the presence of an ovarian cyst or polycystic ovary syndrome. If no physical condition is diagnosed, stress could most likely be the cause of your irregular menstrual cycle.

Never knowing when your period will arrive can have more or less problematic consequences. Already, being constantly on the lookout risks increasing your stress even more and locking you into a vicious circle. In addition, if your periods appear too often close together, you risk coming close to exhaustion, in particular because of the regular loss of iron.

The ideal once again is to consult a specialist who will be able to find with you the best drugs while waiting to succeed in reducing your stress.

Period pain: dysmenorrhea

A study published in December 2004 in the scientific journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine highlighted the influence of stress on painful periods. The authors thus demonstrated that women exposed to a large dose of stress were twice as likely to suffer from dysmenorrhea. The researchers noted on this occasion that stress causes in many women more pain during the menstrual phase (phase during which the uterine lining disintegrates and flows through the vagina) and the proliferative phase (phase during which the uterine lining recovers). Stress generates less pain during the secretory phase (phase during which the uterine lining thickens following ovulation).

How to deal with stress?

The good news with stress-induced cycle disorders is that they are reversible! In general, there is no reason to be alarmed! If the irregularity of your cycle is really important, your gynecologist may suggest painkillers, hormonal treatment or even antidepressants. Most of the time, the cycle will recover on its own once the stress is gone. The best way to deal with the situation is to deal with the stress problem at the root. Cutting off all sources of pressure being almost impossible, the most profitable strategy is based on reducing sources of tension and taking charge of your health naturally. To treat the effects of stress on the menstrual cycle (including the famous pain associated with premenstrual syndrome), why not turn to alternative medicine such as homeopathy, acupuncture, herbal medicine or aromatherapy? A healthier lifestyle can also have a beneficial role. This is an opportunity to say goodbye to cigarettes, alcohol and coffee and say hello to dietary supplements such as magnesium and vitamin B6! The regular practice of a relaxing physical activity can also help you to evacuate the stress and to find the harmony of the body and the spirit: to you the yoga, the sophrology, the tai chi, the qi gong or the meditation.

By Valerie