5 Unexpected Ways Your Menstrual Cycle Can Affect Your Health

Your period can cause more than just bloating and cramps.

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Bloating, cramps, cravings. These are the usual suspects to expect at this time of the month. While some period symptoms are predictable, others are less obvious.

Here, Ob-Gyn Sheryl A. Ross, MD, author ofShe-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Intimate Health. Period​​and​She-ology The She-quel: Let’s continue the conversation​​​​,shares some surprising and unusual ways your menstrual cycle can affect your body and overall health (and how you deal with it).

1. It can make asthma worse

Believe it or not, your monthly menstrual cycle can cause an asthma attack.

“For some, asthma gets much worse just before the onset of their period, but research to understand this hormonal link is limited,” says Dr. Horse. “One thought is that hormonal changes during and immediately after a period can worsen asthma by reducing a woman’s airflow.”

fix it​: If you notice your asthma flare-up when Aunt Flo comes to town, talk to your doctor.

“Oral contraception, which regulates the hormone cycle, may help those who get period-related asthma attacks,” says Dr. Horse.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important for hormones, she adds.

2. It can inflame Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).

While gastrointestinal issues are common during your menstrual cycle (hello, period farts), people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can struggle with even more gut symptoms.

“The most common gut change is diarrhea,” says Dr. Horse. “It’s thought to be caused by the release of certain chemicals, primarily prostaglandins and progesterone.”

These troublesome prostaglandins cause the intestines and uterus to contract, leading to diarrhea (and menstrual cramps) in the first three days of your period, she explains.

To add fuel to the fire, “a surge in the hormone progesterone causes bloating, diarrhea, and constipation, which are often upsetting for people with irritable bowel syndrome,” she says.

fix it​: “The best way to manage these troublesome gut symptoms includes eating a healthy, high-fiber, colorful diet, getting regular exercise, and avoiding caffeine, sugar, salt, dairy, spicy foods, and alcohol,” says Dr. Horse.

“It’s also important to manage stress [which can trigger tummy troubles] through relaxation techniques like mindfulness, yoga and tai chi,” she adds.

3. It can aggravate bladder pain syndrome

For some people with bladder pain syndrome, the hormonal changes that come with a period can cause painful symptoms, says Dr. Horse.

“Bladder pain syndrome (also known as interstitial cystitis) is a chronic bladder disease that causes pain, frequent urination and urgency unrelated to a bacterial urinary tract infection,” explains Dr. Horse.

“It’s a complex and complicated condition that’s influenced by many external triggers, including diet, alcohol, and hormonal fluctuations,” she says.

fix it​: To reduce the risk of flare-ups, avoid dietary triggers, including caffeine, alcohol, spicy foods, citrus fruits, tomatoes, and artificial sweeteners, one to two weeks before a period, says Dr. Horse.

“In addition to diet awareness, helpful lifestyle changes include relaxation techniques, efforts to minimize stress, gentle exercise, warm sitz baths, loose clothing, bladder training, and monitoring fluid intake,” she adds.

4. It can trigger headaches

Your period can also cause a throbbing pain in your noggin.

“Hormonal changes trigger many uncomfortable symptoms, and headaches are one of them,” says Dr. Horse.

In particular, the dramatic drop in “estrogen and progesterone during the menstrual cycle can worsen headaches, especially migraines,” she explains.

In fact, a staggering 60 percent of people assigned a female at birth (AFAB) suffer from menstrual migraines, says Dr. Horse.

fix it​: Luckily, Dr. Ross that there are many treatment options for menstrual headaches, including:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (think ibuprofen)
  • riboflavin
  • Coenzyme Q10
  • Herbs like butterbur and feverfew
  • acupuncture
  • biofeedback
  • relaxation exercises
  • massage
  • Sitting in a dark room with an ice pack on your head

“Birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives may also help control menstrual headaches,” adds Dr. Ross added.

5. It can make depression and anxiety worse

Hormonal changes that occur during your menstrual cycle can also affect your mental health.

“Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can make the week or two before your period debilitating,” says Dr. Horse.

According to the Center for Women’s Mental Health in Massachusetts, PMS affects up to 80 percent of people AFAB in their reproductive years and is an umbrella term that refers to the collage of symptoms that appear one to two weeks before your menstrual period begins, according to General Hospital.

These can include emotional and psychological symptoms such as:

  • Fury
  • fear
  • depression
  • irritability
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • sensitivity to rejection
  • social retreat

A more severe form of PMS, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), can cause even greater mood disorders (including clinical depression or anxiety) and affect your ability to function and quality of life, according to the UNC School of Medicine.

And if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or another underlying mood disorder, the wild hormonal swings that occur during your period can only make those conditions worse, according to the Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Fix it:Talk to your doctor and a mental health professional who can help you create a personalized treatment plan and manage these difficult symptoms.

According to the Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital, possible treatment options for PMS and PMDD include:

  • Lifestyle changes (limit or eliminate caffeine, sugar, sodium, alcohol, and nicotine; get enough sleep; exercise regularly)
  • Food supplements (calcium, vitamin B6, magnesium and vitamin E)
  • Herbal Remedies (Chasteberry and Gingko Biloba)
  • light therapy
  • Psychotherapy and cognitive behavioral therapy
  • psychotropic drugs
  • Oral contraceptives

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