The cycle starts in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus sends a message to the pituitary gland to release a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). As the follicle develops, estrogen and luteinizing hormone (LH) levels increase. When LH levels are at a peak, the egg is released from the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube. When the egg is released, the lining of the uterus begins to thicken. The entire process is known as ovulation. If the egg is not fertilized in the fallopian tube, the egg travels to the uterus and disintegrates. Hormone levels decrease and the uterus sheds the thick lining. When the lining is shed, the female period starts.
Stress and the body
There is a biological relationship between stress and the reproductive cycle. When an individual is stressed, the body releases the hormone cortisol. Low levels of cortisol can be beneficial. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism, control blood glucose levels, and serve as a catalyst for the fight or flight response. Cortisol can also reduce inflammation and lower blood pressure. The problem arises when cortisol levels become too high and the body’s hormone levels are thrown out of balance. When cortisol levels are too high, reproductive hormones will be suppressed. When hormone levels out of balance, some changes can occur with the menstrual cycle causing abnormal bleeding.
1. Running late
If stress occurs before the egg is released, approximately 2 weeks before a typical menstrual cycle, the body may not trigger the release of the FSH and LH hormones. The menstrual cycle will not begin until the hormone levels begin to balance out. The result will be delayed ovulation.
2. Disruption of flow
If the stress occurs during the beginning of a menstrual cycle, the female may experience spotting or an altered cycle. When the body does not adequately dispose of the uterine lining, the female can experience abnormal bleeding or spotting for an additional week or so. In some cases, the bleeding will be continuous as opposed to erratic. Each person’s body will respond to stress differently.
3. Skipping cycles
If stress levels are significant enough, the female menstrual cycle may stop altogether. The cycle may return the following month or be irregular for some time. One or more missed periods is known as amenorrhea. Generally, one missed period is not necessarily indicative of an underlying health issue and could be due to excess stress. The problem arises when the missed cycles continue into month two, three, and so on. At this point, women are advised to speak to a healthcare provider.
Stress management is crucial
Stress management is imperative for overall mental health and physical well-being. Changes in stress levels will affect the balance of the body’s hormones. The female menstrual cycle is sensitive to any hormonal changes and can easily be disrupted. For any questions or concerns regarding stress, the menstrual cycle, and abnormal bleeding, consult an OB/GYN.