Learning objective: After participating in this activity, learners should be better able to:• Discuss and outline the general and overlapping effects of the menstrual cycle on women's mental health.
Abstract: A growing body of research demonstrates menstrual cycle-dependent fluctuations in psychiatric symptoms; these fluctuations can therefore be considered as prevalent phenomena. Possible mechanisms underlying these fluctuations posit behavioral, psychological, and neuroendocrine influences. Recent reviews document cyclic exacerbation of symptoms and explore these mechanisms in the context of specific and often single disorders. The question remains, however, as to whether there are general and overlapping effects of the menstrual cycle on women's mental health. To address this gap, we synthesized the literature examining the exacerbation of a variety of psychiatric symptoms across the menstrual cycle in adult women. Results show that the premenstrual and menstrual phases are most consistently implicated in transdiagnostic symptom exacerbation. Specifically, strong evidence indicates increases in psychosis, mania, depression, suicide/suicide attempts, and alcohol use during these phases. Anxiety, stress, and binge eating appear to be elevated more generally throughout the luteal phase. The subjective effects of smoking and cocaine use are reduced during the luteal phase, but fewer data are available for other substances. Less consistent patterns are demonstrated for panic disorder, symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, and borderline personality disorder, and it is difficult to draw conclusions for symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and trichotillomania because of the limited data. Future research should focus on developing standardized approaches to identifying menstrual cycle phases and adapting pharmacological and behavioral interventions for managing fluctuations in psychiatric symptoms across the menstrual cycle.
Copyright © 2022 The Author(s). Published by Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. on behalf of the President and Fellows of Harvard College.