Anxiety affects millions of people worldwide, with women being much more likely to suffer from anxiety attacks than men. This is due to environmental factors, the difference between brain chemistry in men and women, and the impact the hormones have (estrogen and progesterone mainly). A symptom of anxiety in women is often irregular periods.
Anxiety and Anxiety Episodes
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, or fear, and it is a natural human response to a distressing event or perceived threat. Normally, the feeling serves to improve focus and then disappears quickly. Many American adults, however, suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder, which means they have chronic anxiety, which can include constant feelings of worry, sometimes leading to anxiety episodes, or attacks.
An anxiety episode is an abrupt onset of intense fear and usually lasts for a few minutes. The symptoms often mimic a heart attack or a breathing disorder, making them hard to diagnose. Hyperventilation, palpitations, and extreme fright are indicative of an episode.
Normally, the menstrual cycle is 28 days long, but can be between 24 and 35 days, and bleeding generally lasts for around five days each month. Many women experience regular cycles, meaning they know how many days are going to be in between each period, and there is no significant variation in the length or heaviness of each one.
Irregular periods, however, do not follow a pattern. A woman might not be sure when her period will arrive or how heavy or long it will be. For some women, irregular periods are normal and no cause for concern. However, they can sometimes occur in women with normally regular cycles - this could be a cause for concern and medical advice should be sought. It is normal for girls and women who are going through puberty or menopause to experience irregular cycles. Irregular periods are often caused by fluctuating levels of the hormones estrogen and progesterone.
What Is the Link?
Although some research has been done on the connection between mental health disorders and menstrual irregularities, more studies need to be carried out to learn about the connection between them. However, it is known that mental health disorders, such as depression, can cause irregular periods. Irregular periods can be caused by hormonal imbalances or stress, which are often found along with mental health disorders. Anxiety can also cause people to have a poor diet or not get enough sleep and this can lead to irregular periods.
The stress hormone cortisol is elevated before a woman's period, and this leaves a lot of women susceptible to increased irritability and anxiety around this time. If a woman already suffers from an anxiety disorder, her symptoms may worsen in the days before each period. However, this is referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and is not considered irregular.
The link between irregular periods and anxiety episodes is relatively weak, although it does seem that elevated stress levels increase the likelihood of experiencing an irregular cycle. It is important to seek treatment if you are experiencing anxiety during menopause. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing painful irregular periods or severe anxiety.
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2014). Symptoms. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/panic-disorder-agoraphobia/symptoms
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Causes of irregular periods. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-irregular/Pages/Causes.aspx
- National Health Service UK. (2013). Periods, irregular. Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/periods-irregular/pages/introduction.aspx
- National Health Service UK. (2013). What is a panic attack? Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/pages/understanding-panic-attacks.aspx
- National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d). What is Anxiety Disorder? Retrieved August 6, 2014, from http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml