When you have your period, you're probably already battling cramps and bloating—and the last thing you want to add to your misery is a diarrhea attack or constipation. But these uncomfortable and embarrassing poop problems are just what Mother Nature often hands women during that time of the month (joy).
Up to 50% of women will experience some form of digestive distress during their period, says Jamile Wakim-Fleming, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Considering that a woman can expect to menstruate 450 times throughout her life, that's a lot of bathroom runs. But why exactly do periods bring on gastro issues in the first place?
Pin the blame on prostaglandins, chemicals that cause the uterus to contact. Production of prostaglandins gets ramped up as you approach your period, so the uterus can more effectively push out blood. Problem is, prostaglandins also trigger diarrhea, which is why your toilet can look like a disaster scene particularly during heavy-flow days.
Another culprit is the hormone progesterone, which spikes (along with estrogen) right before you begin menstruating. Increased levels of progesterone can affect the GI system by speeding up or slowing down digestion, explains Dr. Wakim-Fleming.
For some women, that means diarrhea, and for others, constipation. It's not known why a woman will get one over the other, but women who have endometriosis are more likely to experience constipation, says Christine Greves, MD, ob-gyn at the Center for Obstetrics and Gynecology at Orlando Health in Florida.
At this point in your life, you know which poop issue tends to strike you. That means you can take steps to prevent it, or at least make it less of a disruption in your life.
RELATED: 15 Foods That Help You Poop
Exercising and eating a fiber-rich diet (fruits, veggies, whole grains) all month long are good ways to start. Being active can help your digestive system run smoothly, and fiber has a well deserved rep for keeping your body regular.
Some women also find it helpful to take vitamin B6 or calcium in the days leading up to their period. Both nutrients can reduce the risk of stomach issues, says Dr. Wakim-Fleming. Check with your doctor first, however, to make sure either is safe for you and in what dosage.
Going on the Pill can also prevent the surge in progesterone that in turn sends you to the bathroom. And popping ibuprofen can help as well, since it inhibits prostaglandin production.
RELATED: 20 Reasons Why Your Stomach Hurts
If you’re already experiencing period-induced poop troubles, head to the drugstore; an over the counter anti-diarrheal like Imodium or a laxative like Miralax can offer surprisingly quick relief. “Avoid foods that are irritating to you,” recommends Dr. Wakim-Fleming. If you know dairy leaves your stomach rumbling, for example, make an extra point to avoid an ice cream binge or gorging on mac and cheese (tragic, we know) until your period ends.
If symptoms persist or intensify, check in with your doctor. Says Dr. Wakim-Fleming: “If none of these treatments are helping, talk to your ob-gyn and make sure there isn’t something more serious going on that requires attention.”