British researchers have noted that women at midlife who have long COVID seem to get specific, and severe, symptoms, including brain fog, fatigue, new-onset dizziness, and difficulty sleeping through the night.
Doctors also think it’s possible that long COVID worsens the symptoms of perimenopause and menopause. Lower levels of estrogen and testosterone appear to be the reason.
“A long COVID theory is that there is a temporary disruption to physiological ovarian steroid hormone production, which could [worsen] symptoms of perimenopause and menopause,” said JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD, professor of obstetrics at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, and executive director of the North American Menopause Society.
Long COVID symptoms and menopause symptoms can also be very hard to tell apart.
Another U.K. study cautions that because of this kind of symptom overlap, women at midlife may be misdiagnosed. Research from the North American Menopause Society shows that many women may have trouble recovering from long COVID unless their hormone deficiency is treated.
What are the symptoms of long COVID?
There are over 200 symptoms that have been associated with long COVID, according to the American Medical Association. Some common symptoms are currently defined as the following: feeling extremely tired, feeling depleted after exertion, cognitive issues such as brain fog, heart beating over 100 times a minute, and a loss of sense of smell and taste.
Long COVID symptoms begin a few weeks to a few months after a COVID infection. They can last an indefinite amount of time, but “the hope is that long COVID will not be lifelong,” said Clare Flannery, MD, an endocrinologist and associate professor in the departments of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and internal medicine at Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
What are the symptoms of menopause?
Some symptoms of menopause include vaginal infections, irregular bleeding, urinary problems, and sexual problems.
Women in their middle years have other symptoms that can be the same as perimenopause/menopause symptoms.
“Common symptoms of perimenopause and menopause which may also be symptoms ascribed to long COVID include hot flashes, night sweats, disrupted sleep, low mood, depression or anxiety, decreased concentration, memory problems, joint and muscle pains, and headaches,” Dr. Pinkerton said.
Can long COVID actually bring on menopause?
In short: Possibly.
A new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology/Patient-Led Research Collaborative/University of California, San Francisco, found that long COVID can cause disruptions to a woman’s menstrual cycle, ovaries, fertility, and menopause itself.
This could be caused by chronic inflammation caused by long COVID on hormones as well. This kind of inflammatory response could explain irregularities in a woman’s menstrual cycle, according to the Newson Health Research and Education study. For instance, “when the body has inflammation, ovulation can happen,” Dr. Flannery said.
The mechanism for how long COVID could spur menopause can also involve a woman’s ovaries.
“Since the theory is that COVID affects the ovary with declines in ovarian reserve and ovarian function, it makes sense that long COVID could bring on symptoms of perimenopause or menopause more acutely or more severely and lengthen the symptoms of the perimenopause and menopausal transition,” Dr. Pinkerton said.