bowel issues like constipation or diarrhea and how they can both be caused by your menstrual cycle

You’re getting dressed for a night out with friends and your stomach has been rumbling all day. But, it’s not the usual “I’m hungry” kind of rumbling, it’s the “uh-oh may need to run to a bathroom” kind of rumbling which makes you worried. Will you be stuck in the bathroom all night with bloating and cramps or will it pass after a few hours? You suddenly look at the calendar and realize your period is right around the corner, but could they be related?

As if the cramping and unpredictable mood swings weren’t bad enough, your period can also bring on bloating and bowel issues ranging from uncomfortable diarrhea to painful constipation. We examine what causes this to happen, if your period actually impacts your digestion, and what you can do to fight back against this awful setback.

How Your Period May Affect Your Bowels

Let’s be honest: no one wants to talk about their bowels during their period. However, it’s a fact that we all still experience a change when our periods are approaching. In reality, a recent study in 2014 stated that abdominal pain and diarrhea were the most common period-related gastro-intestinal symptoms experienced either before, during, or after their cycle. Even more interesting, 24 percent reported that they experienced diarrhea before starting their periods and 28 percent experienced diarrhea after their period had started.[1] But why does this occur and what can we do to battle this inconvenient “PMS” symptom?

Prostaglandins’ Role in Digestion Issues

The exact reasons why diarrhea and constipation may occur during your period aren’t fully understood, but there is one common theory that may suggest your hormones are to blame. Prostaglandins [2], chemical compounds found in your body that are comprised of fatty acids and are similar to hormones, are released during your period that allow the uterus, as well as your intestines, to contract and restrict.

During menstruation, prostaglandins stimulate your uterus to contract, which helps encourage the shedding of the uterine lining also known as your period. Diarrhea can happen when prostaglandins begin to relax smooth muscle tissues as menstruation begins.

Hormones, Digestion, and You

During the second half of the menstrual cycle, your body makes an increased amount of progesterone which can slow down contractions near your intestines which can slow down how quickly digested food is moved through your intestines. Unfortunately, this may cause bloating, fullness, and even constipation.

When progesterone levels drop, bowel contractions may increase and food may pass along at a speedier clip than before. In addition to prostaglandins, constricting, this can cause diarrhea that may either last for a few hours to a few days during or before your period.

The two main factors here are the increase in progesterone and the affect prostaglandins have on your uterine muscles and lining. These two issues may be at odds with your intestines and digestion which can cause diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and gas buildup.

What Can I Do To Avoid Bowel Issues?

But don’t fear, if you’ve ever felt a rumbling in your digestive tract, there are many ways to help battle these issues. A few of them may include:

  1. Eat foods rich in fiber – Try consuming foods that are high in fiber such as: avocados, raspberries, artichokes, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, chickpeas, oats, popcorn, almonds, chia seeds, leafy greens like spinach, and dark chocolate.
  2. Drink plenty of water – Water can help prevent constipation, keeps you hydrated if you have diarrhea, and improves overall digestive health.
  3. Exercise regularly – Exercise helps constipation by decreasing the time it takes digested food to move through the large intestine, thus limiting the amount of water absorbed from the stool into the body.
  4. Manage stress – Stress can cause irregular periods, bowel issues, stomach ulcers, constipation, inflammation to the digestive tract, etc.
  5. Track your symptoms – Make sure to track your digestive issues like diarrhea, bloating and constipation to make it easier to explain to your doctor what you’ve been experiencing.
  6. Practice Yoga – There are many poses and positions that can help aid in digestion and reduce gas and bloating. Yoga can also reduce stress and decrease pelvic pain.
  7. Limit fatty foods – Candy and sugary snacks can contribute to bloating and gas. Fatty foods can cause both diarrhea or constipation by speeding up or slowing down how food is processed.
  8. Keep to a schedule – Eating a heavy breakfast early in the morning can cause bowels to be overstimulate and midnight snacking could cause loose bowels as well.
  9. Skip alcohol – Alcohol can irritate the stomach lining causing stomach pain and loose bowels. Alcohol can also cause irregular period by temporarily increasing hormone levels.
  10. Try natural probiotics – Battle against your bowel issues caused by your period with these naturally probiotic foods: yogurt, ginger, kimchi, chia seed, sauerkraut, pickles, and kombucha.

If you’ve tried these 10 tips and tricks to battle period and digestive issues, your body may be trying to tell you something else is wrong.

When Bowel Issues Could Mean Something More

There are many reasons why your bowels may feel off during or around your period. One aspect to consider is a uterine fibroid. Fibroids, benign tumors that develop within the uterus or uterine lining, can cause frequent urination, difficulty emptying your bladder, constipation, or a protruding belly that resembles bloating. Depending on the fibroids’ size and location, they may enlarge the uterus pushing on the intestines and bladder.

Many women don’t think that fibroids will affect them; however, between 70 to 80 percent of women will develop fibroids before the age of 50. Everyone experience fibroids differently; therefore, some women will experience no pain, while others will experience immense discomfort that negatively impacts their everyday life. Other symptoms of fibroids may include:

  • Heavy periods lasting more than 10 days per month
  • Fatigue caused by anemia
  • Pain during sex
  • Bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Lower back or leg pain

If you think you may have fibroids or just want to get checked, schedule an initial appointment with us to learn more about your symptoms. Our experienced interventional radiologists use advanced ultrasound technology to diagnose fibroids. If you do have fibroids, our doctors will create a personalized treatment plan that fits your individual needs. Fibroid treatment can shrink fibroids reducing symptoms such as heavy periods, frequent urination, constipation, a protruding belly, and more. Call us at 855.615.2555 or click the button below to schedule today.

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References

[1] https://www.healthline.com/health/diarrhea-during-period

[2] https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/prostaglandins/

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