Getting your period can throw your entire day out of whack. Cramps, fatigue, headaches, and spotting are just a few of the annoying symptoms that many people deal with before and during their periods. But one of the lesser-talked-about bodily shifts that many women experience are stool changes like diarrhea and constipation.
Diarrhea during your period isn’t something to worry about, according to certified nurse practitioner Lois McGuire from Mayo Clinic. She told Woman’s Day that many of the women she has treated experience constipation before or during their periods, so the diarrhea can be a relief. For others, however, it can be incredibly inconvenient. And, unfortunately, medical experts aren’t sure exactly what causes it, but they have a few theories.
- Stool changes during your period could be the result of progesterone levels and uterus contractions.
- There are a few different ways to control your stools just before and during your period.
- In some cases, you may want to contact your doctor.
- Learn the Difference Between Painful Periods, Endometriosis and IBS
- PMS and Painful Periods
- Diarrhea before period
- How can your period affect bowel movements?
- Yes, your poops are different on your period. Here’s why
- Why Your Period Screws Up Your Poop Habits—and How to Deal
Stool changes during your period could be the result of progesterone levels and uterus contractions.
According to one theory, changes in stool during your period might have something to do with levels of progesterone, one of the sex hormones involved in menstruation and pregnancy. “In the luteal phase of the period, or second half of your menstrual cycle, which is just before you menstruate, the progesterone levels go up,” McGuire said. “And progesterone, we think, slows down the motility of the GI tract and might have some impact on why people have constipation first, and then frequent stooling or diarrhea as soon as that progesterone drops.” Levels of progesterone dropping is what also causes you to have a period, she said.
Hormones are the most common cause for stool-related issues during your period. LaylaBirdGetty Images
Second, when your progesterone levels drop, your uterus will contract to help expel its lining (which produces the blood of a period). Prostaglandins, which are “hormonelike substances involved in pain and inflammation,” are what cause those muscles to contract, according to Mayo Clinic. “Prostaglandins can have sort of a laxative effect,” McGuire said, leading experts to believe that they may also contribute to diarrhea during your period.
There are a few different ways to control your stools just before and during your period.
McGuire suggests eating less roughage, which is the part of plant foods that you can’t digest, generally the outside or skin. The skins of fruits, beans, potatoes, whole grains, and whole-grain cereal products are all roughage and contain insoluble fiber, according to WebMD. Whole foods such as brown rice, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, and zucchini, also contain insoluble fiber and could contribute to diarrhea. Cutting these foods out of your diet entirely might not be a good idea, though, since they are thought to help with weight management, lower some risk factors for heart disease, and are a source of good bacteria for your gut, according to Healthline.
Stock up on fiber-filled foods — like oats, mangos, and apples — to help with diarrhea and constipation during your period. Ariane Jechow / EyeEmGetty Images
Food with soluble fiber, on the other hand, might help diarrhea by “absorbing water and adding bulk to stools,” dietician Hilary Shaw told WebMD. Foods with soluble fiber include oats, legumes, sweet potatoes, apples, mangos, plums, berries, peaches, kiwi, and figs, according to WebMD. McGuire also suggests using a stool supplement like Citrucel, which also contains fiber that absorbs fluid to help make stools a little bulker.
Additionally, people who struggle with diarrhea during their periods could also consider using a birth control pill with estrogen and progesterone continuously, McGuire said. Using a birth control pill continuously, versus cyclically, would mean skipping the white placebo pills and immediately starting a new pack. Mayo Clinic notes that this approach works best if you’re on a monophasic pill, which has “the same hormone dose in the three weeks of active pills.”
Birth control pills helps prevent progesterone levels from increasing as much, which can help with stool-related issues during your period. NenovGetty Images
But even just being on the birth control pill might help with diarrhea or changes in stool, McGuire said, because the pill helps prevent progesterone levels from increasing as much. It also stops you from ovulating, and ovulation is what causes progesterone to increase. So McGuire said that even if you took birth control the traditional way, with the placebo pills, “that might be helpful, or you could take it continuously just to avoid periods and avoid the other symptoms that go along with a period too.” She said that people often worry that taking a birth control pill continuously will hurt them in some way, but a number of studies have shown that there are no negative health consequences.
Other hormonal birth control methods, like some forms of IUDs, might also help relieve diarrhea or constipation because they usually help to prevent cramps, but McGuire noted that they don’t stop you from ovulating.
In some cases, you may want to contact your doctor.
McGuire said that diarrhea or constipation during your period usually isn’t something to worry about, but if it’s accompanied by significant pain — worse than cramps — you might want to see a doctor. “If they’re having cyclic pain and the diarrhea, then they may want to be evaluated for endometriosis,” she said. If your pain can’t be controlled with ibuprofen, for example, that might be a sign of endometriosis, according to the Winnie Palmer Hospital. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may also experience an increase in symptoms during their periods, McGuire said, but that usually isn’t cause for concern.
Generally, stool changes during your period are totally normal, and a few lifestyle changes might be all you need to prevent those unpleasant bathroom trips.
IT’S an unpleasant side effect that comes around at that time of the month.
Mood swings, stomach cramps and chocolate cravings should be enough to deal with.
3 Your hormones can cause you to suffer diarrhoea when your have your periodCredit: Getty – Contributor
But most women will also be plagued by a sudden need to rush for a number two, with some suffering diarrhoea.
It means many will go to the toilet more often while they’re on their period, be it twice a day rather than once, or five times a week rather than three.
So what causes diarrhoea while you’re on your period?
Dr Vanessa MacKay, a gynaecologist and spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, told The Sun it’s exactly the same thing that’s to blame your period itself – hormones
3 Prostaglandins, the chemicals that give you cramps to shed the lining of your uterus, can also have the same effect on your bowelCredit: Getty – Contributor
She said the hormone prostaglandins can cause women to have more frequent, softer or loose bowel movements, just before their period.
“Two weeks before a woman’s period, the level of a hormone called progesterone drops, causing a period to start,” she explained.
“The fall in progesterone, and an increase in chemicals called prostaglandins, may cause painful cramping and more frequent softer or loose bowel movements.”
Prostaglandins are the chemicals that help your body shed the lining of your uterus – and gives you cramps.
3 You can speak to your pharmacist about medications to control the diarrhoea, but it will only go away once your period is overCredit: Getty – Contributor
It can also have the same effect on your bowel, leaving you needing to go for a number two more.
Unfortunately, you can’t do anything to control your hormones – your body has to do what your body needs to do.
The diarrhoea will clear up on it’s own when your hormone levels settle down, but if it’s causing you a lot of bother there are a few things that can ease the condition.
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As with any case of the runs, you can speak to your pharmacist about medicines to help stop diarrhoea, like loperamide.
But make sure you tell them you are on your period as that may affect the types of medication they recommend.
You should also drink plenty of water as you are more likely to get dehydrated if you are constantly going to the toilet.
Try not to eat any foods you know upset your stomach – if something normally makes you poop more it’s going to be a bit worse when prostaglandins are at play.
Your bowel movements will go back to normal after your period is over, so it’s nothing major to worry about.
But chances are you will only get a few weeks’ respite before the cycle repeats itself…sorry, ladies.
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If you’re a woman (and you probably are if you’re reading this article), you’re probably familiar with the signs that your period is approaching. Ninety percent of women have premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms at some point in their reproductive life.
Even though a huge portion of the world’s female population has uncomfortable and unpleasant premenstrual symptoms, doctors still aren’t totally sure why they happen. Changing hormones are the reason behind it all, but experts don’t know exactly how, for example, hormonal shifts would cause cramps or feelings of depression.
Brain chemicals are also involved, but it’s unclear to what extent.
If you have more severe premenstrual symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you have higher or more out-of-whack hormone levels than other women. Researchers think it’s because you’re more sensitive to hormonal changes. But why, again, they don’t know.
Regardless of what’s on your personal pre-period checklist, you’ll usually start noticing the signs 1 to 2 weeks before your period and they’ll go away once bleeding starts. How many of these do you recognize?
- You’re breaking out. Acne is a very common problem at that time of the month. Adult women suffer from acne much more than men do, and it’s all because of hormones. Rising hormone levels activate sebum (oil) production, which clogs pores and causes pimples as your period is about to start.
- Your breasts are changing. Breast swelling and tenderness is another frequent one. Again, doctors aren’t sure exactly what role hormones play here, but these symptoms could be linked to high levels of prolactin, the breastfeeding hormone.
- You’re tired… but you can’t sleep. Fatigue is a vicious cycle for many women at this point in their cycle. Shifting hormones make you tired, but they also disturb your sleep patterns. In fact, PMS and chronic fatigue syndrome share many of the same symptoms.
- You have cramps. Abdominal cramps are the most frequent menstrual complaint. Unlike many other symptoms, which begin 1 to 2 weeks before your period and end when bleeding starts, cramps usually show up right before show time and last for 2 to 3 days.
- You’re constipated… or have diarrhea. When your period is approaching, digestive symptoms tend to fall to the extremes. Some women get constipated, and others have diarrhea.
- You’re bloated and gassy. Water retention is another major complaint. It’s also hormonal, but you can curb premenstrual bloat by cutting out salt, eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising regularly.
- You have a headache. Changes in estrogen levels are to blame if you experience headaches leading up to your period. If you’re prone to migraines, you’ll probably find that you get them before your period.
- You’re having mood swings. All PMS symptoms are caused by hormones, so the emotional signs are just as real as the physical ones. Even though mood swings are seen as one of the classic PMS traits, doctors don’t know exactly why they happen.
- You’re anxious and depressed. Depression and anxiety are doubly linked to PMS. A history of either condition could make your premenstrual symptoms worse. And PMS can also cause both.
Learn the Difference Between Painful Periods, Endometriosis and IBS
If you have pain in your pelvic area, it may be difficult to know what’s causing your discomfort. Maybe you feel nauseous or constipated, or have diarrhea. You may have mild to severe cramping during your period. Or perhaps you have pain during intercourse or during a bowel movement. These symptoms can range from inconvenient to incapacitating, and the causes can vary as well.
PMS and Painful Periods
It’s not uncommon to have the discomfort of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, around the time of your period. More than 50 percent of women who menstruate say they have some kind of pain one to two days each month. During your period, hormone-like substances cause your uterus to contract so it can shed its lining. This contraction is what causes cramping.
Pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, constipation and diarrhea, can occur before your period starts. Additionally, you may have emotional discomfort before your period, including anxiety, depressed mood, irritability and moodiness. These symptoms usually dissipate after your period begins.
This cyclical timing helps distinguish PMS from other conditions. But while some pain during periods is common, if over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen is ineffective and your symptoms prevent you from doing regular daily activities, it’s time to talk with your doctor.
If pain keeps you from living your life, make an appointment to talk with your gynecologist today.
Unlike PMS, pain from endometriosis is not caused by contractions of the uterus. Instead, it occurs when cells from the uterus are implanted outside of the uterus, sometimes in the pelvic cavity, bowel or bladder. The implantation causes inflammation, which in turn creates pain.
Pain during your period is the most common sign of endometriosis, but you may also feel pain during intercourse, a bowel movement or urination. You may have irregular cycles, with a period every two or six weeks, or even skipping entire months. In general, the pain of endometriosis is cyclical, which is one way to distinguish it from other conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However, some women with endometriosis have constant pain.
Endometriosis is a tricky condition because its symptoms are similar to other conditions, and some women may not realize that their “bad periods” are not normal, but symptoms of a more serious condition.
While endometriosis cannot be prevented, it can be treated. Hormone therapy, such as hormonal contraceptives (i.e. birth control pills, injections, patch or ring), inhibit ovulation to suppress the secretion of hormones. Another type of medicine, a GnRH agonist, works in the brain to inhibit stimulation of the ovaries. This powerful medicine is only given after a diagnosis of endometriosis is made through surgery, when the doctor can clearly see signs of inflammation and scarring.
Pregnancy also has the side effect of suppressing the ovaries. Although endometriosis can cause scarring in the Fallopian tubes, possibly making it more difficult to get pregnant, the condition does not affect the pregnancy once it occurs.
The removal of the ovaries and uterus is the ultimate way to treat endometriosis. This option is not usually recommended for younger patients, but may be suitable for older patients who no longer plan to become pregnant.
While its symptoms can be felt in the pelvic area, IBS affects the large intestine, causing abdominal cramping, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Unlike painful periods and most cases of endometriosis, the pain from IBS doesn’t coincide with your period. Instead, its symptoms may appear as frequently as several times a week and continue over the course of months. IBS may be diagnosed if you have abdominal pain that overlaps with your bowel movements (i.e. more or less pain after a bowel movement, and changes in the appearance or frequency of your bowel movement).
Dietary and lifestyle changes, medicines to treat symptoms, probiotics and mental health therapies are used to help manage IBS.
Whether your pelvic area pain comes from your period, endometriosis, IBS or another condition, it’s time to get answers. If pain keeps you from living your life, make an appointment to talk with your gynecologist today.
Don’t act like you’ve never heard of period poop. If you’re a person who has periods, you’re almost certainly a person who has period poop — or that confusing and horrific onslaught of bowel activity that coincides with the beginning of your period each month.
Because most women have probably found themselves in the unenviable position of Googling WHY AM I POOPING SO MUCH?!?! from the toilet, here’s everything you need to know about the phenomenon of period poop, which, by the way, is very normal.
Why the Flood Gates Open
A brief biology lesson makes this a lot easier to understand. Your period is just one part of the whole monthly menstrual cycle — and the cycle is made up of rises and drops in certain hormones and bodily chemicals. One of those chemicals is called prostaglandins. As Rebecca Brightman, an ob-gyn in New York City, explained, your uterus starts releasing prostaglandin at the onset of your period because it causes smooth muscle (which lines your uterus) to contract. Those contractions are what push your uterus to start “sloughing off” its lining, or in other words, they kick off your period and are why you get cramps. So they’re necessary but also incredibly rude.
But do you know what other, nearby organ system is also lined with smooth muscle? Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. “Sometimes our body releases so much prostaglandin that it doesn’t just target the uterus, it targets other areas of the body, and in this case, the GI tract,” said Mira Kaga, an internal medicine physician in New Jersey. So it stands to reason that if you have particularly brutal cramps, you will also have particularly brutal poops.
Dr. Kaga said that for some women, the prostaglandin attack on the GI tract results in diarrhea, and for others, it’s just a general increase in bowel movements. The good news here is that, since prostaglandin aids in starting your period, this particular symptom typically tapers off after a few days. The days you’re the crampiest (for most women, days one and two) are the days you’re also the poopiest. So next time your period starts and you feel like your entire pelvic region is exploding from every orifice, feel free to shout, “DAMN THESE PROSTAGLANDINS,” while you’re hunched over on the toilet. They’re what’s to blame.
Ha, you’re a woman, right? Did you honestly think that was it? No! Of course that’s not it. There’s more to this hellstorm.
Another hormone that makes the whole menstrual cycle happen every month is progesterone. Dr. Brightman said progesterone starts building in your body at the time of ovulation. Its role is to tell the uterus to start thickening its lining to support a potentially fertilized egg. Another fun side effect of progesterone is it tends to slow things down. “Progesterone slows down GI tract motility, that’s when women start to get that bloated feeling,” Dr. Brightman said. “Many women experience constipation in the last week or ten days leading up to their period.”
So, in a nutshell, here’s what’s happening to your poor body: Starting with ovulation, many women start experiencing constipation and feel bloated. And then, with the onset of a period, prostaglandins spike and all that pressure that’s been building in the lower abdomen spews forth in a downpour of blood and poop. Menstruating is so sexy!
Staying Ahead of the Poop Curve
Both Dr. Kaga and Dr. Brightman said the best thing you can do to combat the curse of the period poop flood is to plan ahead. Ibuprofen, or a similar NSAID, works by inhibiting the release of prostaglandin, which means that in order for them to work the best, you should take them before you feel your first cramp. If you know your period is coming on the 15th, Dr. Kaga said to start taking the recommended dosage ibuprofen or another NSAID on the 13th. The ibuprofen will block some of the prostaglandin, but unless you take enough to overdose (which Dr. Kaga said would require a lot of ibuprofen to begin with), you won’t disrupt your actual period. “Ibuprofen really helps pretty significantly, and that’s oftentimes our go-to,” she said. “It’ll help prevent the cramping, but also diarrhea.”
Dr. Kaga also said these symptoms are typically less severe in women who are on some form of hormonal birth control, since it works by suppressing the levels of estrogen and progesterone your body releases during the menstrual cycle. But if you aren’t into the idea of going on birth control to alleviate cramps or occasional constipation, Dr. Brightman suggested staying extra hydrated, ensuring you’re getting enough dietary fiber, and light exercise to increase GI motility.
If your constipation symptoms before the period starts are so bad you’re considering a laxative, Dr. Brightman said that’s OK — but very occasionally, in times of true crisis. “If they’re truly constipated, they’ve added in fiber, and they’re drinking a lot of fluid, taking a gentle laxative to make themselves feel comfortable is fine, as long as they’re not abusing it,” she said. “I would not do it on a daily basis.”
If your symptoms are so severe that you’re in deep discomfort, or if you don’t see any sort of pattern to your constipation and diarrhea issues, you should talk about it with your doctor. Dr. Kaga said GI irregularity can sometimes be a sign of another health problem, like irritable bowel syndrome. The best thing you can do is pay attention to what’s going on with your poop the same way you do your period — if you know that every month you’re a constipated poop balloon for five days and then find sweet relief in a downpour when your period starts, that’s normal. It may be annoying and gross, but you can take solace in the fact that most other women around you deal with exactly the same thing, and isn’t that a little bit comforting?
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Hannah Smothers Hannah writes about health, sex, and relationships for Cosmopolitan, and you can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
Diarrhea before period
Cramps, bloating, back pain, sore breasts, mood swings. Can it get worse? Actually, it can. Diarrhea is another symptom you have to put up with before getting your period.
If you’ve found that your diarrhea appears before you have your period, you’re not alone. Many women report that, together with premenstrual syndrome (PMS), they often experience severe diarrhea symptoms. Diarrhea right before your period is something many women have in common. One thing is for certain: a woman’s menstrual cycle and the functioning of her digestive system are definitely linked.
Why do you get diarrhea before your period?
Levels of progesterone and estrogen increase during certain times of the month. There are receptor cells for these hormones in your gastrointestinal tract. This suggests that the gastrointestinal tract is designed to sense and react to them.
Apart from hormones, another cause is the increased amount of prostaglandins. If they are produced in a large amount, prostaglandins can get into the muscle that lines your bowels. This may cause your intestines to contract and push out things quickly.
Diarrhea a week before period: is it normal?
The majority of premenstrual symptoms begin 1 to 2 weeks before your period. They can last until seven days after the start of menstruation.
When your period is around the corner, digestive symptoms tend to fall to the extremes. Some women get constipated, and others have diarrhea. One study has shown that 73% of women experience at least one of the primary gastrointestinal symptoms either pre- or during menses. Roughly 24% of women said they experience diarrhea before period, while 28% experience diarrhea during their period.
Diarrhea right before period: a symptom of PMS?
IBS experts have found that all women are more likely to experience bloating and constipation in the days of the month following ovulation.
However, things start to change as women get closer to their period. In the days right before their period, women are more likely to experience diarrhea and abdominal pain. Diarrhea right before period is normal and in most cases, a healthy diet and medicine can make the symptoms go away.
How to treat diarrhea before period
Many women have found that they can take some steps to reduce diarrhea symptoms. The treatment options include:
- Drinking plenty of water to ease your abdominal bloating.
- Exercising daily to decrease bloating and diarrhea.
- Taking vitamin supplements, such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B-6.
- Maintaining a caffeine-free diet.
- Eating a nutritious diet to improve your overall health. This means eating plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Reducing your intake of sugar, salt, and alcohol.
- Sleeping at least eight hours per night.
- Reducing stress through exercising or reading.
- Going to cognitive behavioral therapy.
You can take pain medication and pills to stop your diarrhea symptoms, only after speaking with your doctor.
How can your period affect bowel movements?
The following sections discuss the bodily changes that occur just before or during a menstrual period that may affect bowel movements.
Increased muscle contractions
Share on PinterestA person may experience muscle contractions just before their period.
Just before menstruation, the body releases hormones known as prostaglandins. These hormones stimulate muscle contractions in the uterus. These contractions help the body to shed the uterus lining.
At the same time, the period hormones may stimulate muscle contractions in the intestines and bowels, which are close to the uterus, causing more frequent bowel movements. They also reduce how well the body absorbs water, making the stool softer and increasing the risk of diarrhea.
It can be difficult to tell the difference between uterus cramps and stomach or intestinal cramps at this time. Both may be uncomfortable or painful.
Prostaglandins are also involved in many other PMS symptoms, including headaches.
Progesterone is another hormone that increases right before a menstrual period. For some, progesterone can affect the gastrointestinal tract to cause either constipation or diarrhea.
In females who have chronic bowel issues or an irritable bowel disorder (IBD), such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease, menstruation can make symptoms worse.
For example, in people with IBD-related constipation, progesterone-associated changes can make constipation worse. This is also true for people with conditions such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cysts.
Furthermore, people with IBD are more likely to experience other PMS symptoms, such as headaches or menstrual pain.
Progesterone may increase feelings of hunger and can cause cravings for foods high in fat or sugar, such as ice cream or chocolate. The body has a hard time digesting these foods, and eating more of them can affect a person’s bowel movements.
PMS-related changes in dietary habits may contribute to why some people notice differences in the consistency, regularity, or smell of their stool before or during a period.
Increased stress or anxiety
During PMS or the menstrual period, many people experience mood swings or increased anxiety levels. Stress can also affect a person’s bowel movements, causing constipation or diarrhea.
According to research appearing in the journal BMC Women’s Health, people report greater sensitivity to pain and discomfort in the premenstrual phase as well as on their periods. This sensitivity can exacerbate symptoms, too.
Yes, your poops are different on your period. Here’s why
Periods can cause cramping, mood swings and acne, but they can also wreak havoc on your digestive system.
“Period poops,” as they are often called, refer to bowel movements that coincide with the start of your period. They typically differ from your regular poops and are often looser and more frequent, or diarrhea.
According to Dr. Yolanda Kirkham, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Women’s College Hospital and St. Joseph’s Health Centre in Toronto, hormones are largely to blame.
“Some of the same hormones that cause cramps and inflammation also lead to some of the bowel changes,” Kirkham explained.
READ MORE: What are fibroids? Here’s what women need to know
During your period, prostaglandins — a group of hormones — cause uterine muscle contractions, or cramps. Kirkham says prostaglandins can also cause contractions in the intestines.
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“When you have excessive bowel cramps, you can also have diarrhea,” she said.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms can also affect your bathroom schedule, Kirkham said. If you experience higher levels of anxiety around your period, for example, the hormones related to stress can cause bowel movement changes.
Loose poops are only one menstrual-related digestive change; many women experience constipation before they bleed.
1:04 What are menstrual cups? What are menstrual cups?
Kirkham says there’s an increase in progesterone just before periods begin, which is the hormone that thins the uterine lining.
“It also causes some of our other PMS symptoms, like mood symptoms and acne. It can cause some constipation as well,” she said.
How to manage period poops
There are some over-the-counter ways to deal with digestive changes, Kirkham said.
These include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen.
“Even before you see the menstrual blood, if you start to have cramps, you can start taking those medications,” Kirkham said.
READ MORE: A heavy period isn’t always normal — it could be a sign of a bleeding disorder
The doctor also stresses that a balanced, healthy diet rich with fruits and vegetables is key, as is exercise.
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“Then there’s also all of the menstrual management medications we use, such as birth control pills, patches and the ring,” she said. “Those both decrease period cramps and period flow… and will also help with the symptoms.”
When to see a doctor
While period poops may be normal, you should seek medical counsel if you experience any changes, including blood in your stool or rectal or anal pain.
These may be symptoms of other issues, such as inflammatory bowel disease, hemorrhoids or endometriosis, said Kirkham.
“If you’ve got more pain, more than just a change in texture or bleeding, those should definitely be checked out.” © 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
Why Your Period Screws Up Your Poop Habits—and How to Deal
When you have your period, you’re probably already battling cramps and bloating—and the last thing you want to add to your misery is a diarrhea attack or constipation. But these uncomfortable and embarrassing poop problems are just what Mother Nature often hands women during that time of the month (joy).
Up to 50% of women will experience some form of digestive distress during their period, says Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Considering that a woman can expect to menstruate 450 times throughout her life, that’s a lot of bathroom runs. But why exactly do periods bring on gastro issues in the first place?
RELATED: Can’t Poop? Here’s Everything You Should Know About Constipation
Pin the blame on prostaglandins, chemicals that cause the uterus to contact. Production of prostaglandins gets ramped up as you approach your period, so the uterus can more effectively push out blood. Problem is, prostaglandins also trigger diarrhea, which is why your toilet can look like a disaster scene particularly during heavy-flow days.
Another culprit is the hormone progesterone, which spikes (along with estrogen) right before you begin menstruating. Increased levels of progesterone can affect the GI system by speeding up or slowing down digestion, explains Dr. Wakim-Fleming.
For some women, that means diarrhea, and for others, constipation. It’s not known why a woman will get one over the other, but women who have endometriosis are more likely to experience constipation, says Christine Greves, MD, ob-gyn at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida.
At this point in your life, you know which poop issue tends to strike you. That means you can take steps to prevent it, or at least make it less of a disruption in your life.
RELATED: 15 Foods That Help You Poop
Exercising and eating a fiber-rich diet (fruits, veggies, whole grains) all month long are good ways to start. Being active can help your digestive system run smoothly, and fiber has a well deserved rep for keeping your body regular.
Some women also find it helpful to take vitamin B6 or calcium in the days leading up to their period. Both nutrients can reduce the risk of stomach issues, says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. Check with your doctor first, however, to make sure either is safe for you and in what dosage.
Going on the Pill can also prevent the surge in progesterone that in turn sends you to the bathroom. And popping ibuprofen can help as well, since it inhibits prostaglandin production.
RELATED: 20 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts
If you’re already experiencing period-induced poop troubles, head to the drugstore; an over the counter anti-diarrheal like Imodium or a laxative like Miralax can offer surprisingly quick relief. “Avoid foods that are irritating to you,” recommends Dr. Wakim-Fleming. If you know dairy leaves your stomach rumbling, for example, make an extra point to avoid an ice cream binge or gorging on mac and cheese (tragic, we know) until your period ends.
If symptoms persist or intensify, check in with your doctor. Says Dr. Wakim-Fleming: “If none of these treatments are helping, talk to your ob-gyn and make sure there isn’t something more serious going on that requires attention.”