Plus, health experts provide tips on how to prevent it from happening.

Claire Harmeyer
May 04, 2021 @ 4:36 pm
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You've got embarrassing, tricky, and otherwise unusual life questions. We've got answers. Welcome to Is This Normal?, a no-nonsense, no-judgment advice column from HelloGiggles, in which we tap experts to find out exactly how typical (or not) your situation is.

Dear Is This Normal,

Dealing with heavy bleeding during my period is annoying enough, but I have yet another fluid flowing out of my body constantly when it's my time of the month: diarrhea. During recent years when Aunt Flo comes to town, not only do I bleed, cramp, and bloat, but I can't seem to stop pooping, either.

I've started wondering if this is a normal PMS symptom, and when my sister mentioned experiencing period diarrhea too, a quick Google search proved we weren't alone in our struggle. Maybe this is TMI, but can you explain why some people get diarrhea during periods?

– Period Pooper

Dear Period Pooper,

Nothing is TMI here, especially when it comes to period talk. Plus, like you said, you're not alone in your battle with period diarrhea. In fact, a whopping two-thirds of women reported experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms before and during their period, with 28% including diarrhea as an issue, according to a 2014 study conducted by BMC Women's Health. So, as an unlucky lady pooping up a storm during your time of the month, you're far from alone. But how do diarrhea and your menstrual cycle correlate? We tapped doctors to explain this mysterious period diarrhea.

Why do I get diarrhea on my period?

Unfortunately, because period diarrhea isn't discussed as a PMS symptom as often as others (read: cramps), more studies are needed to determine exactly what causes diarrhea during periods. However, many doctors lean toward a common culprit: prostaglandins, aka compounds in the body that have hormone-like effects.

"During a woman's menstrual cycle, certain hormones can cause bloating, diarrhea or constipation, water retention, and abdominal cramping," Women's Health Specialist, Dr. Soma Mandal, tells HelloGiggles. "Increasing progesterone levels can cause constipation, while diarrhea can occur when prostaglandins begin to relax the smooth muscles in the uterus before bleeding occurs."

When these pesky prostaglandins relax the blood vessels in the gastrointestinal tract, what's inside (you know, bacteria that eventually becomes poop) doesn't have time to fully harden, which can lead to diarrhea.

"When a woman menstruates, prostaglandins are released and cause the uterine muscle to contract (which helps the uterine lining shed)," medical director at The Pill Club, Dr. Amy Roskin, tells HelloGiggles. "However, prostaglandins can also cause other muscles—like those in the intestines—to contract, resulting in more frequent bowel movements and sometimes diarrhea."

So, blame prostaglandins—not Mother Nature—for period diarrhea. Those of us who experience diarrhea before and during our periods simply got dealt an unlucky hand. However, just like with other PMS symptoms, you don't have to suffer through them—there are ways to treat period diarrhea.

How to stop diarrhea during your period:

Stick it to Mother Nature and take action against unpleasant period diarrhea by following these doctor-recommended tips.

  • Alter your diet: "Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains." Dr. Mandal advises. "Minimize spicy foods, caffeine, sugary foods, alcohol, and dairy products during this time."
  • Think about trying birth control: "Consider oral contraceptives, which can regulate the cycle and reduce diarrhea," Dr. Mandal says.
  • Exercise: Physical activity can help minimize diarrhea.
  • Reduce stress: Excessive stress can worsen all period symptoms, including diarrhea. Check out our tips on how to reduce stress here.
  • Try a medication: "If diarrhea is accompanied by cramping, consider an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug) such as ibuprofen or naproxen, which can reduce the cramping effects of prostaglandins," Dr. Mandal recommends.
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We hate to break it to you, but just like chocolate cravings and fatigue, diarrhea might just come along with your period indefinitely. However, it's worth a shot to try to manage symptoms. And remember—period diarrhea is normal, so don't beat yourself up about it.