Getting your period can throw your entire day out of whack. Cramps, fatigue, headaches, and spotting are just a few of the annoying symptoms that many people deal with before and during their periods. But one of the lesser-talked-about bodily shifts that many women experience are stool changes like diarrhea and constipation.
Diarrhea during your period isn’t something to worry about, according to certified nurse practitioner Lois McGuire from Mayo Clinic. She told Woman’s Day that many of the women she has treated experience constipation before or during their periods, so the diarrhea can be a relief. For others, however, it can be incredibly inconvenient. And, unfortunately, medical experts aren’t sure exactly what causes it, but they have a few theories.
Stool changes during your period could be the result of progesterone levels and uterus contractions.
According to one theory, changes in stool during your period might have something to do with levels of progesterone, one of the sex hormones involved in menstruation and pregnancy. “In the luteal phase of the period, or second half of your menstrual cycle, which is just before you menstruate, the progesterone levels go up,” McGuire said. “And progesterone, we think, slows down the motility of the GI tract and might have some impact on why people have constipation first, and then frequent stooling or diarrhea as soon as that progesterone drops.” Levels of progesterone dropping is what also causes you to have a period, she said.
Second, when your progesterone levels drop, your uterus will contract to help expel its lining (which produces the blood of a period). Prostaglandins, which are “hormonelike substances involved in pain and inflammation,” are what cause those muscles to contract, according to Mayo Clinic. “Prostaglandins can have sort of a laxative effect,” McGuire said, leading experts to believe that they may also contribute to diarrhea during your period.
There are a few different ways to control your stools just before and during your period.
McGuire suggests eating less roughage, which is the part of plant foods that you can’t digest, generally the outside or skin. The skins of fruits, beans, potatoes, whole grains, and whole-grain cereal products are all roughage and contain insoluble fiber, according to WebMD. Whole foods such as brown rice, broccoli, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, and zucchini, also contain insoluble fiber and could contribute to diarrhea. Cutting these foods out of your diet entirely might not be a good idea, though, since they are thought to help with weight management, lower some risk factors for heart disease, and are a source of good bacteria for your gut, according to Healthline.
Food with soluble fiber, on the other hand, might help diarrhea by “absorbing water and adding bulk to stools,” dietician Hilary Shaw told WebMD. Foods with soluble fiber include oats, legumes, sweet potatoes, apples, mangos, plums, berries, peaches, kiwi, and figs, according to WebMD. McGuire also suggests using a stool supplement like Citrucel, which also contains fiber that absorbs fluid to help make stools a little bulker.
Additionally, people who struggle with diarrhea during their periods could also consider using a birth control pill with estrogen and progesterone continuously, McGuire said. Using a birth control pill continuously, versus cyclically, would mean skipping the white placebo pills and immediately starting a new pack. Mayo Clinic notes that this approach works best if you’re on a monophasic pill, which has “the same hormone dose in the three weeks of active pills.”
But even just being on the birth control pill might help with diarrhea or changes in stool, McGuire said, because the pill helps prevent progesterone levels from increasing as much. It also stops you from ovulating, and ovulation is what causes progesterone to increase. So McGuire said that even if you took birth control the traditional way, with the placebo pills, “that might be helpful, or you could take it continuously just to avoid periods and avoid the other symptoms that go along with a period too.” She said that people often worry that taking a birth control pill continuously will hurt them in some way, but a number of studies have shown that there are no negative health consequences.
Other hormonal birth control methods, like some forms of IUDs, might also help relieve diarrhea or constipation because they usually help to prevent cramps, but McGuire noted that they don’t stop you from ovulating.
In some cases, you may want to your doctor.
McGuire said that diarrhea or constipation during your period usually isn’t something to worry about, but if it’s accompanied by significant pain — worse than cramps — you might want to see a doctor. “If they're having cyclic pain and the diarrhea, then they may want to be evaluated for endometriosis,” she said. If your pain can’t be controlled with ibuprofen, for example, that might be a sign of endometriosis, according to the Winnie Palmer Hospital. People with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) may also experience an increase in symptoms during their periods, McGuire said, but that usually isn’t cause for concern.
Generally, stool changes during your period are totally normal, and a few lifestyle changes might be all you need to prevent those unpleasant bathroom trips.