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.
During your period, prostaglandins — a group of hormones — cause uterine muscle contractions, or cramps. Kirkham says prostaglandins can also cause contractions in the intestines.
“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.
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.
The doctor also stresses that a balanced, healthy diet rich with fruits and vegetables is key, as is exercise.
“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.