You’re probably pretty comfortable commiserating with your friends about how much cramps, bloating, and aches and pains suck on your period. But there’s one problem we talk about far less, and that should change: getting diarrhea on your period. Yup, period poops are totally a thing.
In fact, crappy symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation can all be pretty common during that time of the month, says Christine Greves, MD, an ob-gyn at the Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. Nearly three-quarters of menstruating women say they have GI issues before their period, and another two-thirds get these types of symptoms during their period, per a 2014 study published in BMC Women’s Health. The most common GI complaints, though, are abdominal pain and diarrhea.
So, why must the period fairy bless you with period diarrhea on top of everything else? Read on for the answer, plus how to make period poops and gas a lot more bearable.
Tell me: Why do some people get diarrhea before or during their period?
While more studies are needed to determine *exactly* why, research suggests that hormone-like substances called prostaglandins and the sex hormone progesterone could be to blame, says Dr. Greves.
Here’s what happens: A few days before your period, the lining of your uterus begins to break down and releases prostaglandins, which cue the smooth muscles in your uterus to contract. If you have an excess of prostaglandins, though, your uterus could really start squeezing (the result: painful cramps). If that “contract, now!” message spreads even further, your intestines might start to get movin’, too. When that happens, what’s inside (you know, fecal matter) doesn’t have much of a chance to harden, which might be why you get period diarrhea.
Towards the end of your cycle (a.k.a. the luteal phase, when the lining of your uterus thickens up again), your progesterone levels go up. More progesterone stops all of those contractions and tells your bowels to slow down—which is where period-induced constipation can come in (yay!).
Certain conditions can exacerbate the situation, too. Some women who have a retroverted uterus (which isn’t dangerous and requires no intervention), for example, have more bowel issues because the uterus pushes down on the large intestine.
Keep in mind, though: This is a general guide to how your period might mess with your digestive system, but everyone’s different, says Dr. Greves. The key is to pay attention to your own pattern and learn how to cope accordingly.
Are there any ways to control poop problems related to my period?
If you’re dealing with mild GI issues, consider a trip to your local CVS for some over-the-counter solutions and a heating pad for your lower belly.
Depending on your symptoms, you could try anti-diarrheal meds like loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) for closer-to-normal poops, or an anti-gas med like simethicone (Gas-X). As long as they don’t mess with your current health status, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) can ease your belly aches and cramps.
If you can manage a light version of your typical workout or even a brisk walk, exercise may help give you a mood boost, reduce your discomfort, or it can even help get your system going if you’re constipated, says Dr. Greves. Switching up your diet before and during your period could also help keep your symptoms in check. When you know your period’s on the way, avoid foods that typically trigger bloating and gas (like beans, broccoli, and dairy), and if you tend to get backed up, eat more fiber-rich foods (like fruits, veggies, and whole grains).
One thing you shouldn’t do: Try to self-treat period diarrhea that’s become totally life-disrupting or lasts way longer than your cycle. If that’s the case, call your doc (more on that ahead!).
Does period diarrhea ever warrant a doctor’s visit?
Yes. When you’re in intense discomfort (like if you can’t show up for work, sit still, or think about much of anything besides your out-of-whack digestive system), it’s time to call a doctor.
If you’ve been having GI symptoms like cramping, bloating, gas, diarrhea, and constipation that get worse during your period, you could have a gastrointestinal condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), so you’ll want to ask about visiting a specialist. If your period triggers bloody diarrhea or abdominal pain so bad that you can’t eat, you may have endometriosis, a condition where the cells that line your uterus pop up elsewhere, and you should definitely see an ob-gyn for a checkup.
Otherwise? Give it a few more days and hang in there. Thankfully, you only have to deal with this crap once a month.