We do know that researchers do not study menstruation enough.
By Alice Lu-Culligan and Randi Hutter Epstein
Ms. Lu-Culligan is an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Yale School of Medicine, where she studies the immunobiology of pregnancy and fetal development. Dr. Epstein is the writer in residence at Yale School of Medicine and the author of “Aroused: The History of Hormones and How They Control Just About Everything.”
It took a pandemic to get people to talk about menstruation.
A spate of reports from women stating that their periods changed after they got their coronavirus vaccines has left many women worried that the jab is affecting their cycle.
So far, there’s no data linking the vaccines to changes in menstruation. Even if there is a connection, one unusual period is no cause for alarm. There is a long list of triggers that can cause changes to the menstrual cycle, including stress, illness and changes in diet and physical activity.
But that raises the question: If so many things can affect periods, why don’t we know more about how these vaccines — or any others — affect menstruation? It’s part of a long history of medicine not taking women’s bodies seriously.
Clinical trials should track and document menstrual changes as they do other possible side effects. Like the fevers reported after the vaccines, a transient change in one’s period may not be bad for your overall health or have any lasting effects, but it’s still informative.
An unexpected side effect like an unusually heavy period can prompt fear and potentially undermine the public’s trust in the vaccines. This is particularly important now, when ending the pandemic requires widespread acceptance of coronavirus vaccination.
Many people with regular periods use their monthly bleeds as a signpost of their overall health. Changes to their normal cycle can seem especially worrying in the wake of false rumors about the shots causing infertility, as well as news of rare blood clots possibly linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
There are many reasons vaccination could alter menstruation. As many people learn in sex education class or just before puberty, the menstrual cycle is an exquisitely timed series of hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, spiking and falling in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
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