January 24, 2022

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4 ways your period messes with your toilet habits

Photo credit: dusanpetkovic - Getty Images
Photo credit: dusanpetkovic – Getty Images

From Cosmopolitan

Anyone else notice a change in their toilet habits during their period? While it’s common knowledge that people who menstruate can experience bloating and cramping around their time of the month, it’s less widely known how your period can shake up your pooping habits and more.

Lynae Brayboy, MD, Chief Medical Officer at female health app Clue gives us the lowdown on everything you need to know about diarrhoea, constipation and more during your period.

Why can you get constipation on your period?

“Constipation is definitely recognised as a common premenstrual symptom,” confirms Dr Brayboy. But… why so blocked up? Experts believe it’s all to do with the hormone progesterone, which is produced during the luteal phase of your cycle. That’s “the part of the menstrual cycle that occurs between periods, or the days on which your bleeding begins,” explains the doctor.

The whole point of progesterone is to impair smooth muscle contractions in the uterus so women don’t deliver prematurely if they become pregnant, but it also affects your bowels. “Unfortunately the gastrointestinal tract’s smooth muscle is also impaired by the hormone. This means the bowels aren’t moving as they normally would around cycle days 16-28 or during pregnancy,” says female health expert Dr Brayboy. Progesterone levels drop as you start shedding period blood, which means your bowel habits gradually go back to normal.

Photo credit: Peter Dazeley - Getty Images
Photo credit: Peter Dazeley – Getty Images

Is diarrhoea during a period normal?

In one health study, looking into the gastrointestinal symptoms experienced by healthy women in Canada before and during their period, abdominal pain and diarrhoea were found to be the most common side effects. So, yes, you could say it’s a normal thing to experience. As for the why, while Dr Brayboy explains that there’s scientific evidence to suggest the hormone “oestrogen, which is also high in the luteal phase, can induce changes in the nerves that control the gastrointestinal tract,” more research is needed to understand more in the area.

Does fluid retention during your period lead to more frequent urination?

You don’t need an expert to tell you it’s common to feel bloated during you period thanks to fluid retention, which is also the culprit behind puffy hands, breast tenderness, swelling and maybe even some weight gain. But does this extra fluid actually make you need to pee more? Dr Brayboy explains that, progesterone – which we know is heightened during your period – “may create a diuretic effect and thus more frequent urination.” It’s not completely understood by scientists, but evidence suggests you may well be able to blame your darn hormones for needing to wee more often during that time of the month.

Photo credit: Ashley Armitage / Refinery29 for Getty Images - Getty Images
Photo credit: Ashley Armitage / Refinery29 for Getty Images – Getty Images

Do food cravings during your period have anything to do with pooping more during your period?

In short: yes.Altered mood can definitely impact dietary choices which can lead to changes in bowel and bladder functioning,” says Dr Brayboy, pointing to increased alcohol or caffeine consumption as an example of something that will cause more frequent urination. We know food cravings can change with the menstrual cycle (hormones again), but one that plays a particular role is a satiety hormone called leptin. “Leptin is made mostly by fat cells and can change our eating patterns, and therefore our toilet habits,” says the doctor.

“Keeping track of your bowel movements and urinary habits is very important,” urges Dr Brayboy. “This is so that you are able to recognise when patterns change, and figure out what’s normal for you. Tracking can improve the advice your healthcare provider can give you. Increased bouts of diarrhoea or new urinary incontinence could mean underlying medical problems that need prompt evaluation by your medical provider – so be mindful of your patterns and if in doubt, always ask for help.”

You can download period tracking app Clue here.

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