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Is It Normal to Get Diarrhea During Your Period?

In this video, ob-gyn Jennifer Wu, MD, explains what causes constipation, upset stomach, and diarrhea before and during your period.

Lauren SmithMera Goodman, MD
Written by Lauren Smith | Reviewed by Mera Goodman, MD
Updated on January 14, 2021

By the time you reach your 20s, you probably have your own way of detecting an incoming period. For many women, it’s the dreaded menstrual cramps. For others, it’s when a few random pimples abruptly appear on your chin. And for others, the big clue that a period is starting is constipation and diarrhea.

Cramps and mood swings tend to get most of the attention when it comes to PMS symptoms, so you might worry that the wonky bowel movements you experience before and during your period are abnormal and problematic. Fear not: Upset stomach and diarrhea around the time of your period are very normal.

How common is diarrhea during your period?

A 2014 study tracked the gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms of adult women before and during their periods. In the study, 73 percent of participants reported at least one GI symptom. The most common symptoms were abdominal pain and diarrhea. Participants who experienced mood changes before their periods were much more likely to also experience abnormal bowel movements than those who didn’t have mood changes.

What causes digestive problems during menstruation?

The digestive distress comes down to hormonal changes during your cycle. Estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the cycle. These hormonal changes can alter the speed of your digestion. Slow digestion can cause constipation. Faster digestion can cause diarrhea or just more frequent bowel movements.

Some women experience GI distress regularly, such as those with irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease. For these individuals, their symptoms may worsen during their periods. Plus, women with IBS and IBD are generally more likely than other women to report other PMS symptoms (like mood changes), according to a 2015 study in Gastroenterology Report.

What can help relieve upset stomach during your period?

Like other PMS symptoms, one solution to deal with period-related bowel changes is hormonal birth control. This includes the Pill, the patch, or hormonal IUDs.

These options may reduce cramps, mood changes, and upset stomach by evening out the release of hormones throughout your menstrual cycle. If that’s a solution that appeals to you, talk to your doctor to explore which birth control option is best for you and your specific lifestyle.

However, many patients simply accept constipation and diarrhea as part of their monthly routine and make adjustments to their diet and exercise habits. Avoid foods that trigger constipation, and focus on getting more fiber in your diet. Here are more habits to help relieve and prevent constipation.

Additional Medical Contributors
  • Jennifer Wu, MDDr. Wu is a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist practicing in New York City.

    References

    Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS). Washington DC. Office of Women's Health. (Accessed on January 14, 2021 at https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome)

    Bernstein MT, Graff LA, Avery L, Palatnick C, Parnerowski K, Targownik LE. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Womens Health. 2014;14:14.

    View All References (2)

    Bharadwaj S, Barber MD, Graff LA, Shen B. Symptomatology if irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle. Gastroenterol Rep (Oxf). 2015 Aug;3(3):185-93.

    What can I do about cramps and PMS? New York, NY: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on January 12, 2021 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/menstruation/what-can-i-do-about-cramps-and-pms.)

    GoodRx Health has strict sourcing policies and relies on primary sources such as medical organizations, governmental agencies, academic institutions, and peer-reviewed scientific journals. Learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate, thorough, and unbiased by reading our editorial guidelines.

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