The flow, the cramps, the moodiness, the worrying if you’ve got enough tampons stashed in your purse—does any woman actually enjoy having her period? Not to be a downer, but some other surprising I’m-not-feeling-my-best symptoms may also be brought on by your flow. Here’s what’s going on—and happily, the fixes to feel better fast.
Your pain tolerance may drop
A sharp decline in estrogen at the end of your cycle can trigger menstrual headaches or migraines, says Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor in the department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and an ob-gyn in Westchester County, New York. In fact, in women who suffer from migraines, up to 70% notice the head-pounders are predictably linked to their periods. The decline also makes you more susceptible to all types of pain.
Get relief: Treat pain like you would at any other time of the month: with your preferred OTC, such as Aleve (naproxen), Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil (ibuprofen). And when it comes to headaches, says Dr. Dweck, it's important to anticipate when they will happen and crush them before they start. Start taking pain meds when you’re likely to get headaches; for some people, drinking caffeine helps, too. You might also want to ask your doctor about hormonal birth control, but this can be hit or miss, says Dr. Dweck. “Some women find it helps, while others say it makes headaches much worse,” she says.
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You're more prone to poop problems
Maybe you notice it’s difficult to go—or you’re dashing to the loo more often. “Progesterone changes during the menstrual cycle can alter intestinal motility,” says Dr. Dweck. In other words, things can either slow down and leave you constipated, speed up and give you diarrhea, or some combination of both. Studies also show that women who suffer from digestive disorders like IBD go more often, have a greater likelihood of loose stools, and have more abdominal pain while they're menstruating.
Get relief: Wacky bathroom happenings may be a product of your period, but it could also be because you’re more apt to eat junk during this time, says Dr. Dweck. No one’s telling you not to give in to a cookie or two, but maybe keep the burger-and-fry combo to a minimum. And if bowel problems are severe and don’t go away after your flow finishes up, take it as a cue to talk to your doc to check if something else is going on.
You may be more susceptible to yeast infections
The pH of your vagina changes before your period and when you start bleeding, explains Dr. Dweck, which makes some women prone to an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria during this time. This can lead to yeast or bacterial infections.
Get relief: If you suffer from recurrent infections around your period, your doc will assume a pH imbalance is the cause and can prescribe hormonal birth control to help level things out. Also be aware that other things besides pH can contribute to a rise in infections, like poor eating habits (tone down your inner sugar monster), and leaving tampons in too long. So can using heavily fragranced feminine washes or soaps. Reminder: You don't need to wash your vagina, so toss any douches, sprays, or wipes you've been using down there.
RELATED: 7 Sneaky Reasons Your Vagina Itches
You might be clumsier
You’re more likely to walk with two left feet when you’ve got your period. “It might be because of increased fatigue during this time, water retention that’s throwing your center of gravity off, or the hormonal imbalance,” says Dr. Dweck.”But it’s not an uncommon complaint from my patients,” she says. Oddly enough, water retention can make your eyeballs ever-so-slightly-swollen, which affects the way your contacts fit, upping clumsiness.
Get relief: Obviously, try to take more care while, yep, walking. Now’s an especially good time to get out of the habit of walking while looking at your phone. Know that this is normal, but if it becomes a big problem (or you notice you’re fall-prone during the entire month, not just around your period), get checked out by your doctor to rule out something more serious, like a neurological problem.
Your body turns into a calorie-torching powerhouse
Clumsiness aside, there’s also a pretty cool period perk: a boost in exercise performance. The fluctuation of estrogen and progesterone alters the fluid balance in kidneys and blood, explains Stacy T. Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist in the San Francisco Bay area. You can take advantage of these fluctuations and ramp things up during your period. “When your period comes, your hormones are at their lowest. You end up with better intensity, higher fatigue resistance, and better recovery,” says Sims. “Go hard on the workouts!”
Get relief: Sure, being PMS-y can make going to the gym sound like the worst idea ever—let alone kicking butt while lifting or treadmill-ing. But now is the ideal time to go because exercise helps reduce cramping and can also lift your mood. You got this!