Some women no longer have periods, others complain among others, about an irregular cycle, vaginal bleeding, and painful breasts. “Then there are others, having already entered the menopause, who apparently have periods again,” says Karlijn Massar, researcher at the Maastricht Faculty of Psychology and Neuroscience. “They reported so-called spontaneous breakthrough bleeding.”
In the Netherlands, side-effect centre Lareb had registered 1,500 menstruation complaints after vaccination at the beginning of September. But is there a causal connection or not? That is the key question in the Maastricht-Cologne study, in which twenty students and researchers from Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland will participate. “You read all kinds of hysterical stories on social media,” says Massar, who is co-ordinating the study, “while stress or a diet can also disrupt the cycle.”
The initiative came from students from the University of Cologne, who collected a large number of menstruation complaints that they came across on the Internet and in their own surroundings. “Some women felt that they were not taken seriously by doctors and so contacted us,” says leader Maria Beyer, third-year student of medicine in Cologne. Through others, it ended up in Maastricht, where the ethical approval for the study was also granted.
In the meantime, the students – funded by their universities – have had an app developed, which was completed and ready for use as of this week, says Beyer. Women who participate will first complete a questionnaire on their health history, because previous conditions could play a role in irregular menstruation. Then there will be a number of psychological questions. Massar: “For example, we want to know if they suffer from neuroticism, or whether they are extremely fearful of becoming infected.”
After that, the participants will keep tabs on their cycle in the app. As soon as they contract COVID-19 or decide to get a booster vaccine, matters will become more interesting. At this point, they will have to make accurate notes for at least three months about everything that is happening. Everyone can participate, even women who have already been vaccinated or who have experienced COVID-19.
Beyer: “We will also find out whether women experience more problems using the pill or a coil. A total of 380 test subjects should suffice for us to be able to make reliable statements, but because of the possibility of dropouts, we are aiming for a thousand participants.”
The students have recently set up crowdfunding to be able to reward the participants with something small. Beyer: “The readiness to invest in gender-specific medical research is alarmingly low. That is why we have to do it through crowdfunding. Applying for a subsidy takes too much time. We want to start as soon as possible.”