- Stomachaches during periods – a.k.a. what the heck is my bowel doing?
- At-risk group
- How to alleviate the symptoms
- When to be alarmed
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) might take various forms – stomachache, swollen breasts, mood swings, or sudden cravings for pickles, crisps, and chocolate. And these are only some of them. Another affliction connected to period, one which is less willingly discussed but affects many people, is diarrhea.
The subjects of bowel issues and menstruation are rather loosely (pun intended ;)) connected. Alright, we know why – defecation is not the sexiest thing in the world to talk about. And of course, in our beautiful patriarchal reality, girls don’t fart and they don’t poop, right? They don’t menstruate either, or at least they don’t “flash it around” during the “red days”. It’s the same reality in which there’s an abundance of TV advertising for feminine hygiene products, in which a woman dances on the beach wearing a white gauzy dress, and instead of blood, we get a suspiciously blueish liquid. It’s hard to take those seriously but somewhere, deep within our minds, we feel ashamed.
I believe you don’t need a reminder that you have the right to bleed in red during your period, you don’t have to feel lightly and spryly, and you can take issue with your bowel movement. To put it simply – you can be a human being!
Stomachaches during periods – a.k.a. what the heck is my bowel doing?
It’s worth remembering that our menstrual cycle and digestive system are closely connected. No wonder that hormonal imbalance has a direct impact on the frequency of us visiting the toilet around periods.
As you’ve probably noticed, the symptoms of PMS might appear even 2 weeks before menstruation and can last up to one week after its beginning. I know – mother nature totally arsed it up. It boils down to the fact that for almost an entire month we’re exposed to a ton of unnecessary pain just because… we have a uterus and ovaries. Maybe you’ll find some comfort in the fact that we’re all in this deep doo-doo together. Diarrhea before menstruation? Abdominal pain? Constipation? Winds? Remember – you’re not alone!
Why you poop more on your period
During the menstrual cycle variations in the hormone levels of progesterone and estrogen are observable. Their receptors are located in the digestive tract, so it’s perfectly natural that they sense the coming changes and react to them.
Not only hormones are responsible for our bowel movements. Another reason might be an increase in prostaglandin production, i.e. a pro-inflammatory substance. Prostaglandins cause uterine smooth muscle contractions (which is why it hurts so much). If there are too many prostaglandins, there’s a risk that they’re going to worm their way into the bloodstream and adjacent intestinal smooth muscles – we’re cramping again and we have diarrhea.
Period cramps feel like I have to poop
If you do feel stomach cramps around your period but can’t actually defecate, the hormone progesterone is to be blamed again. It’s because it can have a slightly constipating effect on your organism. Its increased levels influence your digestive system by slowing it down, hence the constipation. Some over the counter medicines might help reduce the pain but you should not overuse them.
Before and during menstruation our digestive system has an increased tendency to go to extremes. It’s not just about diarrhea. We might experience stomachaches, bloating, winds, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.
It’s not that everyone has the same period symptoms. However, if your intestines are exceptionally sensitive, chances are that a few days before the bleeding, and during menstruation, the symptoms will intensify.
Other health conditions connected to period poops
If you’re suffering from endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), you probably combat painful poops the entire month. However, the symptoms of those underlying disorders might exacerbate during periods. It’s best to focus on alleviating the symptoms of those health conditions by adjusting your eating habits to the guidelines of your doctor, simultaneously reducing the ailments during possible episodes of period poop.
How to alleviate the symptoms
I bet all you need to know right now is some proactive actions that you may take to prevent all this from happening. I get that – farts, constipation, or diarrhea during periods aren’t on anybody’s list of dreams.
As if the recurring bleeding wasn’t enough…
Please, don’t shoot the messenger but… if you’re not on hormonal birth control and experience recurrent gastrointestinal problems, getting rid of them might not be an easy task. Sometimes it can even prove unattainable.
There are, however, some ways to – if not remove the problem entirely – help alleviate the symptoms.
Eat more fibre and drink water
If you suffer from painful constipation before your period, try increasing the amount of fibre-rich foods in the second half of your cycle. Prunes will be excellent here. What’s interesting, they contain up to seven times more fibre than their fresh sisters. Don’t you forget about proper hydration! It’ll help in your fight against bloating. A healthy diet is the cornerstone of a healthy life – didn’t they teach us that in preschool? Don’t beat yourself up, though, if you give in to the temptation of devouring a chocolate bar… or three. It’s because…
… negative feelings, such as stress or anxiety, can also put our stomach out of order and cause pain, constipation, or diarrhea. Now, how to deal with that (apart from eating a chocolate bar or two ;))? Well, deep breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, massage, and sometimes even – imagine that – letting go and giving yourself a nice pat on the back might do wonders!
Remember – just like water, physical activity is your friend! No, you don’t have to put yourself through the hoops at the gym or throttle, gasping for air, after another kilometre’s run. It’s not going to tone down the pain in your stomach and definitely won’t ease the symptoms of period poops. A walk or light exercises at home or outside will suffice.
Cut down on caffeine
You might think I’m a monster – and trust me, I get it. Nevertheless, we can’t argue with the facts – caffeine is a natural laxative. So if the onset of menstruation is accompanied by diarrhea, think hard on changing black tea to green and limiting the amount of coffee you drink. It’s advisable to refrain from alcohol, as well as sugar and salt – at least around the time you have your period.
Monitor your defecation
I suspect that you have at least a rough idea about when you can expect to have your next period. Perhaps you’re keeping a calendar or using an app. If the problem of diarrhea or constipation concerns you, you should think about keeping a check on this sphere of your life as well. Monitoring the symptoms will allow you to recognise patterns (for example, what is good and bad for your bowels) and to prepare accordingly for what’s to come.
Oral birth control (the ultimate extreme!)
As I’ve just mentioned, some contraceptive pills might significantly reduce the ailments we’re talking about. For the entire month they continuously release a dose of the hormones progesterone and estrogen, balancing their levels. As we already know, hormones are responsible for the whole toilet turmoil.
Using hormonal birth control just to get rid of the problem with the digestive system is not recommended. If you’re in doubt, it’s best to talk to your doctor for more health information and treatment options. It’s also advisable to try natural methods which don’t necessarily involve messing with our hormones.
When to be alarmed
A little reminder: each body is a bit different. Changes in our organisms are totally normal and healthy, many of them not requiring any medical intervention. However, you can monitor your toilet routine – it’ll allow you to predict possible gastric problems and sensify you to various anomalies. In case you notice something out of the ordinary, something that bothers you, and/or significantly impedes your day-to-day functioning, it’s advisable to see your gynaecologist.
Last but not least – recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms are frustrating, that’s true, but remember they’re only temporary.
PS: We know that there are two types of people – those who are amused by poop jokes and those who aren’t. My friend’s team one. She told me about the Bristol Stool Scale – “the coolest scale of science”, as she described it. It’s a classification of human stools divided into seven types, depending on the shape and consistency. The scientific community has not yet decided whether it’s a valid method of assessment; however, it’s been used to measure the stool form in several disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease.