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Covid-19 Linked To Early Onset Of Periods: What You Need To Know

Some girls may be experiencing early puberty in response to the covid-19 pandemic. Early puberty affects about one in every 5,000 to 10,000 children and is about ten times more common in girls than boys. In addition, doctors and parents have noted a significant increase in early puberty worldwide since the pandemic began [1]. However, doctors and experts are unsure as to why this is happening.

Clinically termed precocious puberty, it refers to a child's body beginning to change into an adult's body too soon. It occurs when puberty begins before the age of 8 in girls and before the age of 9 in boys.

Precocious puberty can be caused by a number of conditions, including infections, hormone disorders, tumours, brain abnormalities or injuries, that are rarely associated with precocious puberty. Precocious puberty treatment typically involves medication to delay further development [2].

So, how is COVID-19 linked to precocious puberty? Let's take a look.

COVID-19 And Early Periods In Girls: What You Should Know

An increasing number of early periods in girls around the globe

  • Precocious puberty isn't a new phenomenon; however, the frequency of cases has substantially increased since the pandemic [3].
  • Several countries, including India, Turkey, the US, Iraq, Jordan etc., have reported an increase in early puberty, especially in girls [4].
  • Researchers at the University of Bonn, Germany, reported that the number of girls diagnosed with early puberty at a single medical centre remained constant between 2015 and 2019. However, the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology 2022 results show that this grew to 23 in 2020, when the covid-19 outbreak spread worldwide, and 30 in 2021 [5].
  • A study conducted in Turkey found that double the number of girls had been diagnosed with precocious puberty between April 2020 and March 2021 compared to the previous two years [6].
  • Based on statistical analysis, a German study found that pre-pandemic puberty onset occurred at an average age of 7.6, compared with 6.8 at the time of the Covid-19 outbreak [7]. Indicating that the age of puberty onset may have decreased in addition to an increase in the number of girls starting puberty early.

Possible reasons behind COVID-linked early periods

  • While the exact reason is unclear, researchers are analysing all the possible links, one being stress. In many cases, stress can affect the part of your brain (the hypothalamus) that controls your hormone levels, so you may experience an early period/puberty because you are under stress [8].
  • Another reason could be the sedentary life caused by the COVID pandemic. During the initial phases of the pandemic, with everyone sitting at home, there's been a hike in health issues stemming from the lack of physical exercise [9].
  • It is also possible that increased screen time and changes in sleep cycles are contributing factors [10].
  • A study found that girls diagnosed with early puberty during lockdown had more difficulty sleeping and stayed in bed later than those diagnosed pre-pandemic [11].
  • Of course, experts are also exploring whether the SARS-CoV-2 virus is the root cause of early puberty in girls.

Impact of early periods on the body

  • There is a connection between early puberty and short stature in adulthood and serious health conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers, regardless of gender. In addition, several mental health disorders have also been associated with early puberty, including anxiety in boys and depression in girls [12].
  • There is evidence that girls who experience their periods earlier than their peers have more frequent and severe mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, delinquency, substance abuse, and school failure or dropout [13][14].

On A Final Note...

As a result, researchers have concluded that the effects of covid on female puberty are restricted to girls who have personally contracted the infection. This is particularly significant since children were much less likely to become infected during the earlier stages of the pandemic.

Experts were also quoted saying, "When the data is looked at for the past year, particularly in places where kids almost all went back to school and life returned to more normal, I would predict that the rate of precocious puberty will return to what it had been previously. But we obviously don't know" [15].

Story first published: Tuesday, October 25, 2022, 11:54 [IST]
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