Many women experience unpleasant effects from the hormonal fluctuations accompanying their menstrual cycle. Unfortunately, one of those is often constipation. Some dietary and lifestyle changes may help reduce or prevent constipation. Although digestive upset may be a normal part of your period, it’s vital to ensure underlying health issues aren’t responsible and know when to see your healthcare provider.
Some women have constipation as a normal part of their monthly cycle but typically resolves within the first few days of menses.
Fluctuations in hormone levels throughout the menstrual cycle can contribute to gastrointestinal symptoms such as constipation or diarrhea.
Changes in diet and exercise can help to reduce or prevent constipation during your period.
Health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), may contribute to constipation during the menstrual cycle.
In this article, we'll discover why you might experience constipation while menstruating and what you can do about it.
Why am I constipated during my period?
Fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone hormones, which regulate ovulation and menstruation, can also impact your bowel habits. In general, this hormonal flux is more likely to cause constipation around the time of ovulation and for a few days after. (Ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before your period.) Then, just before and during your period, it is common to have more frequent or looser bowel movements. But, because everyone is different, some women experience just the opposite, including constipation during periods (i.e., less frequent, hard stools).
These hormonal shifts can cause mood swings, menstrual cramps, and digestive changes that alter bowel habits. As a result, many women experience changes throughout the month, including constipation, diarrhea, or more frequent bowel movements. Bowel issues are so common during menses that some call these digestive issues “period poops.”
How long will constipation last?
Bowel changes just before and during your period typically last only a few days. Progesterone assists with the growth and thickening of the uterine walls. The increase of this hormone before your period can slow digestion, which may lead to constipation for some and diarrhea for others.
Most people begin to experience relief from constipation once menstruation begins and hormone levels decrease. However, some may experience diarrhea or more frequent trips to the bathroom at this time.
How to manage constipation during your period
There are some things you can do to combat constipation during your period:
- Eat more fiber. Fiber can increase the firmness and size of stool to help get things moving. Just be sure to start slow because too much fiber may cause gas or bloating. Consider adding high-fiber foods to your diet, such as berries, whole grains, dark leafy greens, or popcorn.
- Drink more water. Increasing water intake can work along with fiber by being absorbed into the harder stool and stimulating your bowels to move. Although water is best for your body, you can also try drinking other beverages, fruits, or even soups if you struggle to get enough water.
- Increase exercise. Boosting aerobic exercise (“cardio” activities like swimming, cycling, or running) is effective for improving premenstrual symptoms and constipation. Even doing gentle yoga or taking a short walk can help get things moving in the right direction.
- Please don’t hold it. Go to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge. Otherwise, waiting can allow stools to harden and become more difficult to pass.
- Reduce stress. The mood swings resulting from hormonal changes during your cycle could cause you stress or increased anxiety, and contribute to constipation or diarrhea. Seek ways to take time for yourself and to relax.
- Use a mild laxative. An over-the-counter (OTC) laxative might help you with constipation, but this is a short-term solution, since some laxatives can become habit-forming. Check with your healthcare provider to determine if they recommend a stool softener or laxative.
Taking care of yourself and your diet may also help with other digestive issues accompanying your periods, such as diarrhea and bloating, to make this time of the month less uncomfortable.
Ways to prevent period constipation
Once your period starts, your bowel movements should return to normal after a few days. However, if you’re suffering from constipation each month, there are things you can do to help prevent and manage it.
- Avoid dietary triggers. Hormonal changes accompanying your period may have you reaching for foods high in fat, sugar, starch, or processed foods. These are difficult to digest and may contribute to constipation. Consider reducing those foods and increasing fresh produce and whole grains.
- Reduce dehydrating beverages. As natural diuretics, caffeinated and alcoholic drinks tend to reduce the water in your body, which only increases the risk of constipation. Prioritize drinking more water, herbal tea, or other caffeine-free beverages.
- Try probiotics. Probiotic-rich foods, such as greek yogurt, may support gut health.
- Talk to your healthcare provider. If constipation or other gastrointestinal issues are a monthly issue, consult your healthcare provider. They can help determine if other factors or undiagnosed health conditions could be causing the symptoms and recommend the appropriate treatment.
When should I worry about constipation?
If constipation lasts longer than three days, or if you’re experiencing blood in your stool, heavy bleeding, severe cramping, or digestive issues that become chronic, see your healthcare provider.
Certain health conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, may increase the risk of bowel issues during your period. Or your menstrual cycle may worsen certain underlying health conditions, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or ovarian cysts.
Constipation or diarrhea during the menstrual cycle is usually the result of changes in hormone levels, and although it’s often uncomfortable, this is relatively normal and should resolve.
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