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

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

Missing a period might normally send me into panic mode (where I'm off to the local drugstore to buy 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 will just be a little different than usual. There was even a time when I didn't get my period for several months living abroad, and it 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 regulating your period while on vacation.

How Your Period Works

It's important to understand the basics of how your period works.

"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, meaning an imbalance can rock the system and cause an irregular period.

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," added Dr. Klein. 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.

How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle

We tend to underestimate the impact stress can have on our bodies and periods. Anything that throws your body out of its regular 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 goes MIA while traveling, don't panic. This is common. But if your menstrual cycle is delayed a few weeks and there is a chance 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 you could be pregnant, the irregularity is more likely due to the hormonal changes experienced during travel, said Dr. Klein.

Check in with your healthcare provider if you skip more than two cycles once you're back home.

How To Help Regulate Your Period While Traveling

Thankfully, there are ways to help regulate your period while traveling.

People who take birth control pills should be sure to take them at the same time they would have at home. Maintaining regular sleeping and healthy eating habits, exercising, and staying hydrated are all ways to help keep your flow regular once you get to your destination. "Do as much as you can so your body doesn't feel the stresses," recommended 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 healthcare provider to make sure you're not at a higher risk for blood clots.

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