IBS and Your Menstrual Cycle

Alright folks, I’m only going to say this once: if you’re squeamish, click away. This is your last opportunity to GTFO before I say something disgusting.

Okay, here goes….when you’re on your period, are you sometimes unsure whether you’re having an IBS flare or if you’ve just got cramps? Because sometimes, menstrual cramps feel a heck of a lot like having to poop!

According to researchers at Clue, “period poop” is a real thing (and not just for people who have IBS). People using their app to track their periods report more diarrhea, abdominal pain and bloating during their periods – all symptoms of IBS!

For whatever reason, women often note that their IBS symptoms are worse when they are PMSing or on their period. Some of you might be wondering why; others might be thinking, “WTF do I care? Tell me how to make my period suck less already!”

Well, don’t worry; this post has answers for both of you.

Why is my IBS worse on my period?

According to Monash University, the answer all boils down to one word: hormones!

Hormones are powerful things. If you menstruate, you probably already know this, since even the slightest drop in estrogen and progesterone can turn the Nicest Person Ever into a raging bitch for a week. (Shoutout to my boyfriend David for putting up with me during that time of the month!)

Your uterus takes cues from your hormones about when to build up and shed its lining, determining what stage in your menstrual cycle you’re at. But like your uterus, your gut also has receptors for female sex hormones, meaning that it, too, is sensitive to changes in your levels of estrogen and progesterone.

Furthermore, the same chemicals responsible for menstrual cramps may also lead to cramping, bloating and discomfort in the digestive system. Prostaglandins released during your period trigger contractions in the uterus, which helps your uterus shed its lining. However, these same prostaglandins could trigger painful contractions in the digestive system, leading to worsened symptoms of IBS.

One important caveat to note: endometriosis, another painful condition associated with the menstrual cycle, can also cause digestive symptoms, particularly if uterine tissue spreads to the bowels. So, if you’re also experiencing heavy, unrelenting periods with excruciating pain in addition to your digestive systems, talk to your gynecologist about whether endometriosis could be a possibility. (For more information, I highly recommend the book The Doctor Will See You Now!)

What can I do about it?

LOL, nothing. End of post.

….just kidding. Researchers have discovered some techniques you can use to reduce digestive discomfort related to your menstrual cycle. Namely, try the following!

Try ‘boring’ NSAIDs. As obvious as it may sound, over-the-counter painkillers may be enough to relieve mild discomfort during your period. If you can take NSAIDs like Aspirin or Aleve, do so; if not, acetaminophen is also an option for decreasing pain and inflammation.

Take vitamin supplements. Taking calcium, magnesium and vitamin B-6 before your period may proactively reduce digestive discomfort, bloating and diarrhea come that time of the month.

Reduce caffeine consumption. Caffeinated beverages lead to symptoms in many IBS patients, but did you know they can also increase menstrual cramps? Avoiding caffeine during menstruation may be your best bet for decreasing period pain.

Explore birth control options. Some types of birth control – such as the oral contraceptive pill – may decrease both menstrual cramps and digestive discomfort. Talk to your doctor about your options if you are interested!

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