Can stress throw your cycle out of whack even on combined hormonal birth control? It’s theoretically possible, but way less likely, Dr. Minkin says. The main exception would be if your stress around the pandemic is making you less diligent about how you take your birth control, like forgetting a bunch of pills in a row, which could then lead to period issues like breakthrough bleeding. It’s a less direct way for stress to affect your period than by directly acting on your hormones, but it still counts.
If you’ve recently switched to a new type of birth control, even in the months pre-pandemic that now feel like forever ago, you can experience any number of period changes. For example, you might see some spotting for a few months after starting birth control pills. If you got a hormonal IUD, depending on how long it’s been since insertion, you might be dealing with spotting, your period getting lighter, or your period stopping altogether. If you opted for a copper IUD, on the other hand, you might experience a heavier and crampier period. If any of these changes coincide with the pandemic, they might seem like they’re due to coronavirus stress when it’s really your body adjusting to your contraception.
Finally, if you’ve stopped using birth control during the pandemic, you can deal with period changes, especially a heavier or more painful period if that’s what you had pre-birth control and your contraception was helping to manage it. (If you’ve stopped using a certain kind of birth control right now, are having sex with someone who can get you pregnant, and don’t actually want to get pregnant, be sure you’re following your doctor’s recommendations for backup protection.)
If there’s a chance you could be pregnant, that can factor into pandemic period weirdness, too.
With all of the above said, keep in mind that if you’re having sex with someone who can get you pregnant, a late period right now can be due to that instead of pandemic stress. “The most common reason for a period to be late in a young woman is pregnancy,” Dr. Streicher says. Things can get even more confusing considering the fact that PMS and pregnancy can share some symptoms, like sore breasts and food cravings.
If you don’t already have a pregnancy test stashed away just in case, take the proper precautions to get one safely (like wearing a cloth mask if you have to go to the pharmacy). Even if you aren’t wondering whether you’re pregnant right now, Dr. Streicher recommends picking up a few pregnancy tests on your next regularly scheduled store run. Yup, even if you’re using condoms, and even if you’ve actually been using other birth control like the pill for ages. It’s better to have a test on hand than have to do an emergency pharmacy run.
If your period is really weird right now, talk to your ob-gyn.
A small but manageable change to your period, like a heavier start than typical or the odd cramps that make you reach for ibuprofen, isn’t something to worry about, Dr. Minkin says. “Most of the wacky stuff with your period is going to get better, it’s probably transient,” she explains.
But if the changes happen for several cycles, are really severe, or are otherwise concerning, check in with your doctor. “The same triggers that would get you to see your gynecologist when you’re not [sheltering in place] are the same triggers now,” Dr. Streicher says. Those include extra painful periods, missing periods even with negative pregnancy tests, and heavy periods where you soak through period products every hour or more, Dr. Wang says. Bleeding for more than seven days when you have a period is another big one.
Yes, there’s a pandemic and many non-emergency offices are closed, but this kind of routine care is largely still available. Whether you think you’re dealing with stress-induced coronavirus/period weirdness or something else, get in touch. Most doctors have telehealth options you can use, and they can discuss your symptoms, schedule tests, make recommendations, and prescribe medications that may help.
For now, I’ll see you on Twitter to compare pandemic period notes.