If you’ve noticed that your menstrual flow has been light recently, know that you aren’t alone.
In this uncertain and unprecedented time, it can be difficult to feel like there’s a semblance of normalcy.
The anxiety and stress of the current global situation can take a toll on your body in many different ways — one of which being your menstrual cycle.
Even before COVID-19, researchers have noticed a connection between stress and menstruation.
If you’re more stressed than usual, you may experience a heavier flow, lighter flow, abnormal flow, or no menstruation whatsoever.
The Office on Women’s Health reports that those who have anxiety disorders or substance use disorders are more likely to have shorter menstrual cycles or lighter flows, otherwise known as hypomenorrhea.
And according to the National Institute of Mental Health, the pandemic can cause stress in many ways, including:
- fear for personal health and the health of others
- changes in daily eating and sleeping habits
- heightened chronic health issues
- increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other substances
Any of these stressors can affect your menstrual cycle, specifically the amount or length of your flow.
While it’s easy to attribute stress caused by COVID-19 to menstrual irregularity, there are other factors to consider.
Hormonal birth control
Hormonal birth control, such as combination (estrogen and progestin) and mini (progestin-only) pills, can affect period flow.
Some doctors actually prescribe the pill to those with a heavier flow, as the hormones can affect the growth of the uterine lining prior to menstruation.
This can cause the period to be lighter — and for some, this means that there’s light spotting or no period at all.
In addition to a lighter period, hormonal birth control can cause:
- fluid retention
- breast tenderness
If you’ve recently experienced sudden weight loss or weight gain for any reason, this could affect your cycle.
If you’ve gained weight, the increase in your body’s fat content can lead to a sudden hormone imbalance. This can slow or stop ovulation altogether.
At the same time, if you’ve recently lost weight, this could mean that there’s a lower estrogen level in your body, which can slow or stop ovulation.
Low thyroid hormone production, otherwise known as hypothyroidism, can cause menstrual fluctuation, especially for younger individuals.
It can make periods heavier and more frequent, or make them stop altogether.
Other symptoms to look out for include:
- appetite loss
- unusual weight gain
- dry and brittle hair or nails
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS develops when the ovaries produce an excessive amount of androgens, which are a male sex hormone.
This can lead to irregular periods, light periods, or missed periods entirely.
Other symptoms of PCOS include:
- unusual weight gain
- excess body hair
- dark skin patches near the neck, armpits, or breasts
If this is the first time your period has been light or nonexistent, another possible explanation could be pregnancy.
Light spotting affects around
If you’ve missed your period and have recently had vaginal intercourse, it’s a good idea to take a pregnancy test.
As your hormone levels decrease, you might notice changes in your period.
Perimenopausal periods can take the form of irregular periods, lighter flows, or light spotting.
This is normal for anyone who menstruates and typically occurs between age 45 and 55.
If you suspect the onset of menopause, keep an eye out for the following:
- hot flashes
- night sweats
- difficulty sleeping
- difficulty urinating
- vaginal dryness
- changes in sexual satisfaction or desire
In very rare cases, your change in menstruation may be a sign of a more serious issue.
If you experience any of the following, immediately call your doctor or other healthcare professional.
Asherman syndrome is a rare disease and gynecological disorder that can slow or stop your menstrual flow, increase cramping and abdominal pain, and ultimately lead to infertility.
It’s caused by scar tissue that bonds to the walls of the uterus, resulting in inflammation.
Other symptoms include interrupted menstrual flow accompanied by severe pain or recurrent miscarriage.
If your doctor suspects Asherman syndrome, they’ll run blood tests and order an ultrasound to help determine the source of your symptoms.
Sheehan syndrome, also known as postpartum hypopituitarism, is a rare disease that occurs when excessive blood loss during or after childbirth affects the pituitary gland.
Symptoms can start immediately after delivery or increase over time, including lighter periods or loss of periods entirely.
Other symptoms to watch for include:
- difficulty or inability to breastfeed
- reduced cognitive function
- unusual weight gain
- underarm or pubic hair loss
- increased fine lines around the eyes and lips
- dry skin
- decrease in breast tissue
- decreased sexual desire
- joint pain
If your doctor suspects Sheehan syndrome, they’ll run blood tests and order an MRI or CT scan to help determine the source of your symptoms.
Cervical spinal stenosis refers to a narrowing or closed-off cervix.
This condition typically occurs as a result of age-related changes in adults ages 50 or older.
However, in very rare cases, the cervix is narrowed from birth because of the way the bones were formed.
This narrowing or closing prevents menstrual fluid from making its way to the vaginal opening.
Other symptoms include:
- painful menstruation
- general pelvic pain
- lower back pain while standing or walking
- numbness in the legs or buttocks
- difficulty balancing
If your doctor suspects stenosis, they will perform a physical exam. They may also use imaging tests, such as an X-ray, to help determine the source of your symptoms.
If there are sudden changes in your period and you suspect it might have to do with non-stress-related causes, you should consider seeing a doctor.
Although your symptoms might not present themselves as “that bad,” there could be more going on.
A doctor or other healthcare professional will be able to perform a physical exam or order other diagnostic tests to identify the underlying cause.
Stress affects the body in many ways — including menstrual disruptions.
But if your symptoms persist — or you think something other than stress may be at the root — consider talking to a healthcare professional.
Unless they believe an in-person visit is necessary, your provider may be able to diagnose the underlying cause and recommend any next steps via a phone or video call.
Jen is a wellness contributor at Healthline. She writes and edits for various lifestyle and beauty publications, with bylines at Refinery29, Byrdie, MyDomaine, and bareMinerals. When not typing away, you can find Jen practicing yoga, diffusing essential oils, watching Food Network, or guzzling a cup of coffee. You can follow her NYC adventures on Twitter and Instagram.