What Is the Period Flu?

The period flu mimics symptoms of the flu—such as headache, sore throat, and muscle aches—near your period.

Period flu symptoms, like headache, fever, digestive distress, and fatigue, can feel a lot like the flu. Or you may feel like you're about to get the flu.

In actuality, the "period flu" is not a real medical condition. In fact, the influenza virus, which causes the contagious respiratory illness, doesn't actually cause the period flu. Still, the name fits well for people with flu-like symptoms before their periods

Period flu symptoms are similar to—but more severe than—premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Like PMS, the period flu typically strikes at the same point during your menstrual cycle: after ovulation and before your period.

Generally, the period flu is nothing to worry about. Although there's no cure, you can treat symptoms at home. As with PMS, hormone therapy, pain relievers, and lifestyle changes, among others, can reduce and prevent period flu symptoms.

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Period Flu Symptoms

The period flu can lead to many symptoms familiar to PMS, such as:

  • Bloating
  • Feeling off-balance
  • Food cravings
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) distress, like constipation and diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Intolerance of loud noises or bright lights
  • Sore breasts

Other common symptoms may resemble the flu, including:

  • Congestion
  • Cough
  • Feeling tired
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat

Those symptoms typically begin either right before or at the start of your period. You may even notice PMS symptoms as early as two weeks after the first day of your last period. Symptoms usually resolve one to two days after your next period starts.

What Causes the Period Flu?

Changing hormone levels are the likely culprit of period flu symptoms. As estrogen decreases between ovulation and the start of your period, prostaglandins increase. Prostaglandins are hormone-like chemicals that trigger the uterine muscles to contract. The tissue that lines the inside of the uterus sheds when the uterine muscles tighten.

Prostaglandins can cause abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Some people may describe their period flu symptoms as in line with the "stomach flu," which is not a real diagnosis but an informal term for gastroenteritis.

Prostaglandins may cause a low-grade fever. A study published in 2016 found that prostaglandins can affect neurons in the hypothalamus, the part of your brain that regulates your body temperature. What's more, body temperature naturally increases during ovulation.

You may feel like your body is fighting off a virus when it isn't. Changing hormones influence your brain chemistry, causing serotonin levels to fluctuate. A variety of symptoms, like the kind of fatigue that happens when you get the real flu, may ensue as a result.

How Is the Period Flu Diagnosed?

There are no official criteria to diagnose the period flu because it's not an actual medical condition. Still, healthcare providers may use the same tools that usually diagnose PMS and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a severe form of PMS. 

To diagnose PMS and PMDD, healthcare providers ask about your symptoms, when they occur during your menstrual cycle, and their effect on your life. They may ask you to track your symptoms daily to see what symptoms happen while ovulating and menstruating.

Lastly, healthcare providers may take a blood sample to test for other possible health conditions with similar symptoms. In your blood sample, they will look at hormones like estrogen, thyroid-stimulating hormone, and cortisol.

Treatments for the Period Flu

No single medicine or lifestyle change can end the period flu. Instead, the goal is to treat your symptoms. There are several treatments for the period flu and general PMS symptoms, including medications, herbal supplements, lifestyle changes, and heat.


Several medicines may treat period flu symptoms. Keep in mind that not every medicine is explicitly approved for that purpose. "Off-label use" is when healthcare providers prescribe medicines that treat symptoms beyond their intent.

Some of those medicines include:

  • Hormone therapy: Contraceptives that use estrogen and progestin to prevent pregnancy may reduce period flu symptoms. Some people who use hormone therapies may have adverse side effects, like nausea and spotting between periods.
  • Antidepressants: A healthcare provider may recommend antidepressants if you have PMDD or severe period flu symptoms affecting your mood. Specifically, these medicines may help if you often feel depressed or anxious near your period. 
  • Pain relievers: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), like Advil or Motrin (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen), can help. Available over the counter, NSAIDs decrease prostaglandin levels in your body.
  • Water pills: Known as diuretics, water pills can relieve swelling and tenderness in your breasts. Water pills may cause nausea, headaches, and water loss.
  • Anti-diarrheal medicine: Some people report having gastrointestinal (GI) issues, like diarrhea, before and during their periods. Anti-diarrheal medicines can alleviate acute diarrhea, like Imodium (loperamide) or Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate).

Supportive Measures

In addition to medications, supportive measures like heat and massage can help ease period flu symptoms. Research has found that heat therapy can alleviate pelvic pain by relaxing tense muscles. The heat helps with blood circulation and reduces fluid retention. By breaking up blood and fluid in the pelvic region, heat reduces swelling that may compress nerves and cause pelvic pain.

Other evidence suggests that massage therapy may relieve pelvic pain, as well. Try applying scented oils and gently massaging above the pelvic region, around the navel, in a clockwise motion. Continue for about 15 minutes.

Herbs and Supplements

Some evidence suggests that herbs and supplements may relieve PMS symptoms. In turn, those products may relieve period flu symptoms. For example, chaste tree extracts, 1,000–1,200 milligrams of calcium, or 50–100 milligrams of vitamin B6 daily may reduce symptoms. Still, keep in mind that the research on whether those methods work is inconclusive.

Lifestyle Changes

Staying hydrated; exercising; eating healthy foods, like whole grains and vegetables; and getting enough sleep are key. Generally, avoiding smoking, drinking alcohol, and consuming too much caffeine and salt can help reduce period flu symptoms.

How To Reduce Period Flu Flares

Dietary supplements are minimally regulated by the FDA and may or may not be suitable for you. The effects of supplements vary from person to person and depend on many variables, including type, dosage, frequency of use, and interactions with current medications. Please speak with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before starting any supplements.

You can take steps throughout your menstrual cycle to reduce the severity of period flu symptoms, like:

  • Eating healthily: Try adding whole grains, vegetables, and fruit to your regular diet if you commonly have period flu symptoms. Reducing salt and sugar intake and limiting overeating can help prevent period flu flares.
  • Staying hydrated: Drinking plenty of liquids but avoiding soda, alcohol, and caffeine may help.
  • Regularly exercising: Working out can help lessen the severity of your period flu symptoms.
  • Taking supplements: Some supplements that may treat the period flu, like calcium and vitamin B6, may reduce flares. Talk to a healthcare provider before adding new supplements to your daily regimen. 
  • Relieving stress and anxiety: Try deep breathing or yoga to help get rid of unwanted stress if your period flu symptoms include feeling anxious.
  • Getting a good night's sleep: Try calming activities, like listening to soft music, before going to bed if you're having trouble sleeping. Quality sleep can help lessen period flu symptoms.

Comorbid Conditions

In general, conditions comorbid with PMS may link to the period flu. Research has found that some of those conditions may include the following:

  • Major depressive disorder: Depression causes sadness and loss of interest in things you once enjoyed. Some people with PMS develop PMDD, which causes severe depression near their periods. The cause of PMDD is not clear, but some experts believe that changing hormones is the likely culprit, as with period flu.
  • Bipolar disorder: This mental health condition causes emotional highs (mania) and lows (depression). Some evidence suggests that people with bipolar disorder and severe PMS symptoms, like PMDD, may have heightened mood changes near their periods.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder: With the period flu, you may have anxiety or stress near your period. In fact, research has found that people with GAD are more likely to feel anxious or irritable in the days leading up to their periods.

Living With the Period Flu

Don't hesitate to tell a healthcare provider if period flu symptoms strike hard during each menstrual cycle or linger longer than a few days. Consult a healthcare provider if you notice new or changing breast lumps or nipple discharge.

Along with offering treatment options, a healthcare provider may check to make sure there isn't another issue like the flu, chronic fatigue syndrome, or depression.

Ultimately, the period flu can be miserable. Unlike the flu, which can leave you sidelined with chills, body aches, a sore throat, and nasal congestion, the period flu is not contagious and unlikely to lead to anything serious. In general, taking steps to treat your symptoms and reduce their severity can help alleviate any discomfort.

A Quick Review

The influenza virus that causes the flu is not the same as the period flu. Still, some people have flu-like symptoms like headache, fever, digestive distress, and fatigue before their periods. Period flu symptoms are similar to PMS and start after ovulation and before your period.

Normally, the period flu is nothing to worry about. There's no cure for the period flu. You can treat symptoms at home with hormone therapy, pain relievers, and lifestyle changes, among others. Consult with your healthcare provider for options.

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Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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