At certain times around your period, do you get constipation, bloating, diarrhea or all of the above?
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Many women have mild, manageable digestive distress related to their menstrual cycle. For others, it’s more severe. Regardless of your symptoms, there are steps you can take to manage them — or possibly avoid them altogether.
How do hormones cause constipation or diarrhea?
Some abdominal symptoms you experience around your period aren’t related to your digestive system at all.
Hormones your body releases during menstruation may cause bloating, water retention and abdominal cramping. Prostaglandins, or fatty acids, cause inflammation. This bloating and cramping may feel like it’s in your stomach, but it’s actually in the uterus.
Family medicine physician Donald Ford, MD, says a buildup of the hormone progesterone can cause constipation. This hormone is responsible for the growth and thickening of the uterine walls, and it peaks right before ovulation.
“This promotes constipation and it tends to come around ovulation or a couple of days after,” he says.
Diarrhea can happen when prostaglandins begin to relax smooth muscle tissues as menstruation begins.
“It makes sense if you think of the cycle,” Dr. Ford says. “Until ovulation, the uterus is preparing to accept the egg and, once it starts, the opposite happens — it’s cleansing to get ready for the next cycle.”
What’s the best way to treat your uncomfortable belly?
1. Keep your diet clean. The first line of defense for these issues is a healthy diet, Dr. Ford says.
“Eat healthy food and get plenty of natural fiber,” he says. “Some people also take fiber supplements, but there’s some controversy over whether or not those are effective.”
Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and leafy greens as a mainstay for maintaining regular bowel habits.
2. Try medication if you like. If eating well doesn’t do the trick, over-the-counter medications are sometimes helpful.
Dr. Ford says laxatives are sometimes harsh, so he recommends taking a gentle brand like MiraLAX® or stool softeners to relieve constipation. You can take these as needed to reduce your symptoms.
If your constipation is more chronic, prescription medications like linaclotide or lubiprostone can sometimes offer an effective solution, Dr. Ford says. These work best when taken regularly.
3. Consider oral contraceptives. Your doctor may also recommend oral contraceptives that reduce the frequency of your periods. If you are already taking contraceptives, one option is to skip periods by skipping the week of placebos.
“It doesn’t fix the problem but it makes it happen less frequently,” Dr. Ford says.
It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor if you have major symptoms like severe cramping with your period, he says. Also, if you ever have pain accompanied by blood in your stool, see your physician as soon as possible to rule out more serious problems.