What Happens to Your Body on Your Period—5 Things To Know

The flow, cramps, moodiness, and worrying if you've got enough tampons—does anyone enjoy having their period?

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No matter how long you've been menstruating, your period may bring on surprising and rather uncomfortable symptoms, too. You may be so used to it, though, you realize you don't know exactly what is happening to your body while you're menstruating. Here's what's going on—and fixes to help you get relief.

Your Pain Tolerance May Drop

A sharp decline in estrogen at the end of your cycle can trigger menstrual headaches or migraines, Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor in the Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Science department at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and an ob-gyn in Westchester County, New York, said. The decline of estrogen can also make you more susceptible to all types of pain.

Regarding migraines, a study published in the journal Systematic Reviews in 2021 examined multiple studies to further understand estrogen's role in migraine headaches. They concluded a sharp decline in estrogen is associated with the development of migraines. However, they also noted this process is complex and that more research is needed.

Get Relief

Treat period pain like you would at any other time of the month: with your preferred over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as Aleve (naproxen sodium), Tylenol (acetaminophen), or Advil (ibuprofen). And when it comes to headaches, Dr. Dweck said, it's important to anticipate when they will happen and crush them before they start. Start taking pain medication 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, Dr. Dweck said. "Some women find it helps, while others say it makes headaches much worse," Dr. Dweck said.

You're More Prone To Poop Problems

Maybe you notice it's difficult to go—or you're dashing to the bathroom more often. Changes to how frequently you have bowel movements may be due to the hormone progesterone. "Progesterone changes during the menstrual cycle can alter intestinal motility," Dr. Dweck said.

In other words, things can either slow down and leave you constipated, speed up and give you diarrhea, or some combination of both. A study published in the Cureus Journal of Medical Science in January 2021 discussed how people who have digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have bowel movements more frequently during their period. Unfortunately, they also have a greater likelihood of loose stools, diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.

Get Relief

Disruptive changes to your bathroom habits may result from your period, but it could also be because you're more apt to eat junk during this time, Dr. Dweck said. And if bowel problems are severe and don't go away after your period ends, it's a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider 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, Dr. Dweck said. This makes some people prone to an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria during this time. Overgrowth can lead to bacterial or yeast infections.

Get Relief

If you have recurrent infections around your period, a healthcare professional may consider a pH imbalance as the cause and prescribe hormonal birth control to help level things out, as appropriate. Also, be aware that other things besides pH can contribute to a rise in infections, like poor eating habits (such as too much sugar) 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.

You Might Be Clumsier

You're more likely to be clumsy when you have 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," Dr. Dweck said. "But it's not an uncommon complaint from my patients," Dr. Dweck said. Oddly enough, water retention can make your eyeballs ever so slightly swollen, affecting how your contacts fit and increasing clumsiness.

Get Relief

Try to take more care while walking and moving around. It's also a good idea to avoid walking while looking at your phone. Know that some clumsiness is normal. However, if it becomes a big problem (or you notice you're fall-prone during the entire month, not just around your period), reach out to your healthcare provider to rule out something more serious, like a neurological disorder or problem.

You May Have Better Workouts

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, Stacy T. Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist in the San Francisco Bay area, said. 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," Sims said. "Go hard on the workouts!"

Get Relief

Sure, being on your period can make going to the gym sound hard, and it can be challenging to find the motivation for lifting or running. But during your period can be an ideal time to exercise because it can help reduce cramping and improve your mood. You've got this!

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