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Can Uncontrolled Stress Affect Your Menstrual Cycle? Expert Explains The Link

Stress is more harmful than you think. It not only affects your mental health but your reproductive health too. Let's understand how.

Can Uncontrolled Stress Affect Your Menstrual Cycle? Expert Explains The Link

Uncontrolled stress can negatively affect your health in more ways than one

Stress is a response to demands of our environment. When we encounter a situation that we perceive as stressful our body releases cortisol and adrenaline. In small amounts, stress can be helpful and motivates us to take action. However, chronic stress or excessive stress can have a negative effect on our physical and mental health. Exercise is a type of stress which gives a positive long term health benefit but what we are referring to is chronic stress like unusual demand at work, financial difficulties, health problems and major life changes.

Relationship between stress and the reproductive system:

1. Irregular cycles or absence of periods - Stress can have a significant impact on the reproductive system and can lead to hormonal imbalances. The hypothalamic- pituitary HP axis is a major system involved in the stress response and stress can disrupt the normal functioning of this axis which affects the menstrual cycle and fertility. Overproduction of cortisol leads to suppression of certain hormones which are responsible for ovulation thus suppressing ovulation causing irregularity in the cycle or even absence of menstruation. All this can result in delayed or missed periods.

Tip - Practice relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation to help manage the stress and regulate the menstrual cycle

2. Pain during periods can also be associated with stress - Stress can cause menstrual cramps, muscular tension and inflammation and this can make periods more painful. Stress can also lead to increase in the production of prostaglandins which are directly responsible for menstrual cramps.

Tip - Regular exercise and a healthy diet will help reduce inflammation and muscle tension. Taking pain relievers can also help alleviate the cramps.

3. Stress can affect the flow of the blood which can in turn cause heavy or light periods - The thickness of the uterine lining is regulated by the hormone's oestrogen and progesterone and when stress interferes with the production of these hormones the amount of the flow can get affected.

Tip - Maintaining a healthy diet with food rich in iron like leafy vegetables and meat can help prevent anemia due to heavy periods. On the other hand, abnormal light periods may require evaluation by a doctor. Staying hydrated also helps regulate your menstrual cycle and at the same time reducing caffeine and alcohol is important as it can disrupt your menstrual cycle

4. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) - Stress can worsen premenstrual syndrome symptoms like mood swings, bloating and headaches. This is because stress can affect production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine which regulate mood and behaviour.

Tip - Exercise and a healthy diet can help reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. Additionally, relaxation techniques and yoga can help manage stress and improve mood. During stressful situations it is important to prioritise self-care and get enough sleep and rest. Taking care of yourself will definitely help promote a healthy menstrual cycle. Keep track of your cycle and identify any abnormal flow or irregularities and seek medical attention if necessary.

Overall stress can have a significant impact on the reproductive system, and it is important to manage stress levels to maintain reproductive health. Stress managing techniques such as regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, meditation and therapy can help the individual and support the reproductive health.

(Dr. Tejal Kanwar - Gynaecologist and Menstrual Health Consultant with Ujaas)

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