As someone who just returned from a trip to the mountains, I can answer to the fact that altitude affects almost everything in your body. Dizziness and fatigue were simply part of life above 10,000 feet for me. But does altitude affect your period too? Traveling to great heights might change some things about your menstruation cycle as well.
When it comes to the exact way an elevation change may affect your period, experts do not have a simple answer. “Older studies suggest women living at higher altitudes may have hormonal changes affecting their periods, but these are very small studies,” as Sharyn N. Lewin, MD, FACS, FACOG and founder of the charity group The Lewin Fund, tells Romper via email. It’s difficult to make any definite claims with such limited data, however, as other experts agree. “There are not many studies on this, but the small-scale studies that have been done do show that there are changes in hormone levels of women who live at sea level versus those at altitude,” Dr. Beth Oller, MD, a practicing family physician in Stockton, KS, explains to Romper in an email. Basically, more research needs to be done before the relationship between altitude and menstruation is totally understood.
What some of these studies do find, however, is super interesting for people who travel to high altitudes on occasion. “According to the International Climbing and Mountaineering Federation, a woman's menstrual cycle can be affected by changes in altitude, particularly high altitude. The menses can be stopped, irregular, shortened, longer in duration or irregular,” explains Dr. Soma Mandal, a board-certified medical internist, to Romper via email. As the study further explains, if a native lowlander visits a high-altitude zone briefly, then the change in oxygen saturation may affect their reproductive system.
In addition, living at a higher altitude long-term may cause some hormonal period changes as well. Hormone profiles during the menstrual cycle of women living at high altitude differed in some ways from those of women living at sea level, according to a study in the International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. Specifically, serum progesterone levels on three days out of the cycle were significantly higher for women who lived at sea level. That said, the study was conducted back in 1996, and it examined 20 women total. More current research is needed to fully understand the ways living at altitude can affect a menstrual cycle.
What if you're not living at elevation, but just vacationing at a high altitude for a few days, or even just for a few hours like on a flight. “If you are traveling to altitude for vacation, you may notice a change in your period, and could notice it being shorter, longer, heavier, or irregular,” says family physician Dr. Beth Oller, echoing Dr. Mandal's expertise. “However, these same factors can be seen when you travel to an area with different weather patterns, experience jet lag, a change in schedule, or fatigue (which are often experienced on vacation).” So if you're on a skiing trip, for instance, it can be hard to say whether your irregular period was due to general travel stress, the cold, or the high altitude itself. There are so many possibilities.
Basically, you don't have to give up on rock climbing or mountain hikes just because travel and altitude might affect your cycle. For the most part, these alterations to your cycle are somewhat mild. Of course, if you have any health concerns whatsoever — say you're trying to conceive while on a trip to Peru or something — don't hesitate to reach out to your physician for advice. There are plenty of ways to manage your menses and live the high (altitude) life at the same time.
Dr. Soma Mandal, a board-certified medical internist
Dr. Beth Oller, MD, a practicing family physician in Stockton, KS
Sharyn N. Lewin, MD, FACS, FACOG and Founder of The Lewin Fund
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