Menstrual cycle changes possible after COVID-19 vaccine
After Katherine Lee received her COVID-19 vaccine, she and a colleague talked about their side effects.
While they expected injection site pain and a slight fever, they both noticed a symptom that they had not expected: their menstrual cycles changed. As Lee began talking with other people who menstruated, she heard that they also experienced periods that came earlier, felt heavier or just seemed abnormal.
“The menstrual cycle is a really flexible and dynamic process and it responds to a lot of different things in life like stress, physical or mental or immune changes,” Lee, the post-doctoral scholar in the public health sciences division at the University of Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis, said. “The menstrual cycle is supposed to respond and adapt.”
Lee reached out to her grad school professor, Kathryn Clancy, head of the Clancy Lab at the University of Illinois, which focuses on women’s health research. She mentioned the irregular cycles and Clancy was interested. Then she received her first dose.
“A little after a week after this first Moderna dose and I had never had a period that was so heavy — not even in my 20s when I was having a really heavy cycle,” Clancy said.
Clancy shared her experience on Twitter and people kept the conversation going with their own stories.
“A lot of people had noticed something but hadn’t heard anything about (menstrual changes) being a side effect,” Lee said. “So many things could impact people’s menstrual experiences. So, we just thought if this is a side effect of … this type of vaccine it would be good for people to be prepared.”
Both researchers said that they are pro-vaccine and they’re conducting the research to understand the full range of potential side effects.
“We need to do more work noticing when there are different effects for different people, really, so that we can do a better job of (preparing for) these side effects,” Clancy explained. “If people know, for instance, this is going to make you bleed more they’re going to have more pads with them.”
Past vaccine studies & menstruation
It’s not known if past studies on other vaccines looked at whether they influence menstruation, experts said.
Clancy said it wasn’t until the National Institutes of Health recommended balanced recruitment for drug trials in the 1990s that women needed to be included in studies.
“We make a lot of assumptions about vaccines and side effects based off of data that doesn’t actually represent all bodies,” she said. “There are biological and cultural effects to all sorts of different phenomena, and we really need to do due diligence to study these.”
While researchers do not understand how the vaccines might influence menstruation, they do have some understanding of how having COVID-19 impacts menstruation.
“There are some studies that show that how the COVID virus actually enters the human cells and these receptors are found in part the GI system, kidneys, possibly the uterus, possibly the placenta,” Dr. Anar Yukhayev, an OB-GYN at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, told TODAY.
Yukhayev wonders if the inflammation that plays a role in the virus contributes to the changes.
“Perhaps not the virus itself, but perhaps it is the antibodies and the inflammation reaction that that that it’s creating throughout the body,” he said.
Yukhayev urges people to talk to their doctors if they notice period changes and are worried.
Some people might want to take a pregnancy test while others might be experiencing a change in menstruation for other reasons, such as fibroids, endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), especially if it is longer lasting.
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