Diarrhea and Your Period

Besides riding a hormonal roller coaster and dealing with uncomfortable cramps, many women must contend with diarrhea during their period.

Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
You have enough to deal with during your period — diarrhea is one more unpleasant and messy side effect you shouldn't have to put up with. Though diarrhea is caused by the same bodily changes that cause period cramping, the good news is that it can be managed and even prevented with medication.

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Why Diarrhea Happens During Your Period
The exact reasons why diarrhea occurs during your period aren't fully understood, but it is quite common and often tied to menstrual cramps. Believed to be at the root of the cause are prostaglandins, chemicals released during your period that allow the uterus, and thus the intestines, to contract. Prostaglandins can also cause other pain associated with dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstrual periods. Prostaglandin-related cramps and diarrhea usually occur in the first three days of your menstrual period.
“[Bowel movements] can change with differing hormone levels," says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In fact, some women may even notice the opposite and become constipated during their period, Dr. Marrero says.
Diarrhea, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating and nausea, may also occur during the week prior to your period. In this case, the diarrhea may be part of a group of symptoms, usually including mild mood changes, called premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Managing Diarrhea During Your Period
Women who often experience bouts of diarrhea during their period should prepare for what is about to come.
"Try some agent that will slow [diarrhea] down," says Marrero, such as loperamide (Imodium) or Kaopectate. "If women can predict when it's going to happen, they can start taking medications before symptoms start." If the diarrhea is only occasional or isn't bothersome, you don't have to do anything, since you know it will resolve quickly.
Taking loperamide or another anti-diarrheal can help soothe or prevent diarrhea symptoms, but make sure to check with your doctor before taking these medications. Also, be sure to stay well-hydrated by drinking a lot of fluids. Bulking up on extra fiber can also help solidify loose stools and perhaps reduce your diarrhea symptoms. Another tip is to try to eat foods that contain active cultures of beneficial bacteria (probiotics), like the ones found in yogurt.
But, Marrero cautions, if you are experiencing significant pain or bloody stools, the cause could be more serious than just PMS symptoms or dysmenorrhea. Endometriosis of the bowel, for instance, is not common, but may cause bloody stools and should be diagnosed by a doctor, he says.

Juggling Diarrhea and PMS

You can manage and prevent some premenstrual symptoms and dysmenorrhea by taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to inhibit the release of chemicals related to pain. Taking birth control pills to prevent ovulation may also help to prevent many painful symptoms for some women.
Believe it or not, exercise is one of the best medicines for managing PMS and menstrual pain. Moderate exercise can help alleviate cramps by improving blood flow — and what works on cramps may work on diarrhea, too. Also avoid caffeine and junk foods as both can cause diarrhea and worsen PMS. Of course, a heating pad, warm water bottle, or warm cloth across your abdominal area can also help relieve the pain brought on by period cramps.
Remember that a healthy diet and regular exercise can keep your belly and your bowels happy all the time — especially during your period.

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