We need to have a talk about “period poops.”
By the time you reach your twenties, you probably have your own way of detecting an incoming period. For many women, it’s the dreaded menstrual cramps. For some, it’s when you start to wince while running or going down stairs because your breasts have become oh-so-tender. For others, it’s when a few random pimples abruptly appear on your chin. And for others, the big clue is—yep—your bowel movements. Or in some cases, the lack of ‘em.
Cramps and mood swings tend to get most of the attention when it comes to PMS symptoms, so you might worry that the wonky BMs you experience before and during your period are abnormal and problematic.
Fear not: Upset stomach at this time of the month is totally normal. “It’s very common for patients to complain of constipation right before their period, and then diarrhea or frequent bowel movements during their period,” says Jennifer Wu, MD, an ob-gyn at Lenox Hill Hospital.
How common? A 2014 study tracked the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of adult women before and during their periods. In the study, 73 percent of participants reported at least one GI symptom, especially abdominal pain and diarrhea. Participants who experienced mood changes before their periods were significantly more likely to experience abnormal BMs than those who didn’t have mood changes.
The digestive distress comes down to hormonal changes during your cycle, according to Dr. Wu. “Changes in estrogen and progesterone before your period and during your period can alter how fast food moves through your intestines,” explains Dr. Wu. Food moving slowly through the intestines can cause constipation, and quick movement through the intestines can cause diarrhea, or just more frequent bowel movements (a.k.a. “period poops”).
For women who experience GI distress on the regular—such as those with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease—their symptoms may worsen during their periods. Furthermore, researchers have found that women with IBS and IBD are generally more likely than other women to report PMS symptoms beyond changes in their BMs, according to a 2015 study in Gastroenterology Report.
Like other PMS symptoms, one solution to deal with period-related bowel changes is hormonal birth control, such as the Pill, the patch, or hormonal IUDs. These options may reduce cramps, mood changes, and upset stomach by evening out the release of hormones throughout your menstrual cycle, according to Dr. Wu. If that’s a solution that appeals to you, talk to your doctor to explore which birth control option is best for you and your specific lifestyle.
However, many patients simply accept constipation and diarrhea as part of their monthly routine and make adjustments to their diet and exercise habits. Avoid foods that trigger constipation, and focus on getting more fiber in your diet. Here are more habits to help relieve and prevent constipation.
00:00.264 --> 00:02.847 line:15%
00:08.210 --> 00:10.150
-: It's very common for patients to complain
00:10.150 --> 00:11.982
of constipation right before their period
00:11.982 --> 00:14.148 line:15%
and then diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
00:14.148 --> 00:15.350 line:15%
during their period.
00:15.350 --> 00:17.960 line:15%
This is all due to the hormonal changes during that time.
00:17.960 --> 00:20.520
Changes in estrogen or progesterone before your period
00:20.520 --> 00:23.520
and during your period can alter how fast food moves
00:23.520 --> 00:24.760
through your intestines.
00:24.760 --> 00:27.848
If it moves more slowly, then more of the fluid comes out
00:27.848 --> 00:30.160
and you can have constipation.
00:30.160 --> 00:32.760
If food moves more quickly, you may have diarrhea
00:32.760 --> 00:34.450
or frequent bowel movements.
00:34.450 --> 00:36.690
Patients who have certain GI conditions like
00:36.690 --> 00:40.140
irritable bowel syndrome, they are very prone to diarrhea
00:40.140 --> 00:43.394
and constipation even without their periods, so they may see
00:43.394 --> 00:46.530
a worsening of symptoms right before their period.
00:46.530 --> 00:49.400
Many patients complain of the constipation and diarrhea
00:49.400 --> 00:50.280
during their cycle.
00:50.280 --> 00:52.780
If they would like to try to get rid of the constipation
00:52.780 --> 00:55.550 line:15%
and diarrhea, we could try birth control pills,
00:55.550 --> 00:58.130 line:15%
because there's a more steady state of the hormones
00:58.130 --> 00:59.310 line:15%
during that time.
00:59.310 --> 01:01.130
Patients are very reassured when they realize that
01:01.130 --> 01:04.700
there actually is an explanation for it and it's based
01:04.700 --> 01:07.690
on their hormones, and many of them decide that they
01:07.690 --> 01:09.690
actually don't need birth control pills,
01:09.690 --> 01:11.640
that they will just deal with it with fiber
01:11.640 --> 01:13.493
and fluids and things like that.
01:13.493 --> 01:16.076 line:15%
Bernstein MT, Graff LA, Avery L, Palatnick C, Parnerowski K, Targownik LE. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Womens Health. 2014;14:14.
Bharadwaj S, Barber MD, Graff LA, Shen B. Symptomatology if irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle. Gastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2015 Aug;3(3):185-93.
What can I do about cramps and PMS? New York, NY: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on March 21, 2018 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/what-can-i-do-about-cramps-and-pms.)