Anyone with a menstrual cycle can name the telltale signs that another period is on its way. A day or two before the flow starts, some experience mood swings, some get cravings, some notice breakouts on their face, and some get all of the above.
These symptoms are common and well known, but there are more conditions that can flare up or worsen during the menstrual flow that might not be as obvious. The hormones estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, which can cause a wide range of unpleasant symptoms—far beyond shedding the uterine lining.
Here are just some of the unexpected ways your period can disrupt your health.
Yeast infections: Oh, dear. These unpleasant, itchy infections occur when the normal yeast that grows in your otherwise healthy vagina grows out of control. They’re not an STD, and simple things like hormonal changes during your menstrual cycle or pregnancy can bring one on.
Diarrhea: No, it’s not just you. Diarrhea during your period is a common problem, even if your friends aren’t talking about it. Your stomach may be more sensitive during the first couple of days of your period. If you have digestive issues like gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome, you might notice your symptoms are worse than usual.
Migraines: Hormonal changes are one of the biggest migraine triggers. In fact, over half of migraines in women start right around the time of her period, according to the U.S. Office on Women’s Health.
Motion sickness: The reason some people get sick in cars, planes, and boats—and others don’t—is still a bit of a mystery. But what researchers do know is that women more frequently report motion sickness than men do, and that women tend to be more susceptible to dizziness and fatigue during their menstrual cycles.
Back pain: Dysmenorrhea, or pain during menstruation, is usually associated with menstrual cramps, but it’s not unusual for pain to reverberbrate to the back. Learn more about back pain during periods here.
Swollen gums: The influx of estrogen and progesterone cause increased blood flow to the gums, according to the American Dental Association. This can cause the gums to be more sensitive, and they may overreact to plaque and bacteria on the teeth and become inflamed and more likely to bleed.
Anxiety or depression: In the days leading up to menstruation, some people may experience mild irritability or sadness, while others may feel an overwhelming sense of anxiety, hopelessness, or worthlessness. People who already live with a mental health issue may find their symptoms worse during this time.
Trouble sleeping: Your period may make you feel fatigued, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get good-quality sleep tonight. First of all, the discomfort caused by your period (cramps, anxiety, bloating, etc) may be enough to keep you up. But also, your core temperature creeps up about half a degree post-ovulation, according to the National Sleep Foundation. This change in temp may be enough to cause disrupt sleep during the second half of your cycle. Here are habits to promote sleep that may help.
Got more period woes? Find out here why you’re period stopped coming, and here are reasons your period is heavier than usual.
6 sleep problems that occur during your period (and what to do to make them go away). Washington, DC; National Sleep Foundation. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-news/6-sleep-problems-occur-during-your-period-and-what-do-make-them-go-away.)
Dysmenorrhea. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins Medicine. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/conditions/gynecological_health/dysmenorrhea_85,P00557.)
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Golding JF, Kadzere P, Gresty MA. Motion sickness susceptibility fluctuates through the menstrual cycle. Aviat Space Environ Med. 2005 Oct;76(10):970-3.
Hormones and dental health: what every woman needs to know. Chicago, IL: American Dental Association. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/h/hormones.)
Matchock RL, Levine ME, Gianaros PJ, Stern RM. Susceptibility to nausea and motion sickness as a function of the menstrual cycle. Womens Health Issues. 2008;18(4):328-35.
Migraine. Washington, DC: Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/migraine.)
Patient education: painful menstrual periods (dysmenorrhea) (beyond the basics). Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2018. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/painful-menstrual-periods-dysmenorrhea-beyond-the-basics.)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007193.htm.)
Treatment of primary dysmenorrhea in adult women. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2018. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-primary-dysmenorrhea-in-adult-women.)
What is a yeast infection? Washington, DC: Planned Parenthood. (Accessed on December 31, 2021 at https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/health-and-wellness/vaginitis/what-yeast-infection.)