This Is Why Your Period Might Get Screwed Up When You Travel

Stress and changes to your schedule can contribute to alterations in your menstrual cycle.

Missing a period might normally send me into panic mode (goes to CVS and buys all the pregnancy tests). But when I take a long-haul flight or plan a trip somewhere where there is a time change, I know that my cycle is just going to be a little wonky. There was even a time when I didn't get my period for several months living abroad and became regular again as soon as I moved back to the US.

What gives, body? Is missing a period (or two) due to travel something we should worry about? We asked experts why our menstrual cycles get so screwed up when jet-setting and scored some tips on how to regulate your period while on vacation.

First, The Basics of How Our Bodies Work

It's important to understand the basics of how your period works. So, we turned to science. "Ultimate control of your menstrual cycle resides with the hormones secreted by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland—essentially your brain," explained Joshua U Klein, MD, chief medical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at Extend Fertility. Any disruption to your physical or emotional health, which includes stress, lack of sleep, and changes in diet, can affect hormone balance and lead to irregular or absent menstrual periods, explained Dr. Klein. Proper hormone balance is necessary for ovulation to occur, meaning an imbalance can rock the system and cause your period to skip a beat.

While many hormones are involved in the control of your menstrual cycle, two important ones are known to be directly related to travel and stress—cortisol and melatonin. Travel often goes hand-in-hand with stress, explained Dr. Klein, and this can cause cortisol levels to fluctuate. "Changes in sleep schedules, like early flights and time zone changes, and added stress can have some effect on these hormone levels," he added. When the levels of these two hormones in your body change, your ovulation schedule can also shift. The result? A period that might show up earlier or later than expected.

Stress Can Have Big Effects on Our Bodies

We tend to underestimate the impact stress can have on our bodies and periods. Anything that throws your body out of its normal routine can cause stress, and therefore has the potential to alter your menstrual regularity, said Dr. Klein. Weight fluctuations and changes in your diet can also cause hiccups in your menstrual cycle. And, if you are taking birth control pills and you're not taking them at the same time when you're in a different time zone, this can mess up your cycle too, pointed out Orlando-based OB-GYN Christine Greves, MD, a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Missing a pill can also screw with your period, added Dr. Greves.

If your period does go MIA while you're on vacay, don't panic. According to experts, this is extremely common. But if your menstrual cycle is delayed a few weeks and there is a chance that you could be pregnant, it's a good idea to take a pregnancy test. On the other hand, if your period has been normal in the past and there is no potential that you could be pregnant, the irregularity is more likely due to the hormonal changes experienced during travel, said Dr. Klein. If that's the case, our experts suggested you check in with your doctor if you skip more than two cycles once you're back home.

Thankfully, there are ways to help regulate your period while traveling. Women who take birth control pills should be sure to take them at the same time every day that they do at home. Maintaining regular sleeping and healthy eating habits, exercising, and staying hydrated are all ways to help keep your flow normal once you get to your destination. "Do as much as you can so your body doesn't feel the stresses," encouraged Dr. Greves.

Also important: "Birth control has a risk of its own when you travel," advised Dr. Greves. Contraception that contains estrogen—including the vaginal ring, the patch, and the combined pill— can increase your risk for blood clots, so you need to make sure you're moving your legs inflight (wearing compression socks wouldn't hurt either). And check with your doctor to make sure you're not at a higher risk for clots.

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