ADVICE: Why the digestive issues during my period?

Diarrhea, constipation and vomiting is common for many women during their period.

Maja Begovic 3 minute read May 21, 2021
period digestive

If you're running to the bathroom on your period, you're not alone. Getty

Dear Asking for a Friend,

I have a bit of an awkward question. I am in my thirties, and I have always had normal periods. But one thing that has always bothered me is the effect it has on my stomach — I often have diarrhea, cramping and gas along with my period. Is this a thing?

Signed, Number Two

Dear Number Two,

In addition to a host of other symptoms, including mood changes, bloating, cramping and food cravings, many women report gastrointestinal issues that show up like clockwork each month.

According to Dr. Aalia Sachedina, clinical assistant professor in the department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of British Columbia, fluctuating hormones are largely to blame.

“Perimenstrual gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms are common, experienced by up to 70 per cent of women,” she says. “These can include abdominal pain, boating, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. These symptoms can be caused by changes in hormone levels and release of inflammatory substances that occur during periods.”

Sachedina adds that there are also some studies that suggest that mood changes — which are also common during and before menses — can have an effect on GI symptoms, including bowel habits.

While menstrual cycle can affect bowel habits, its prevalence hasn’t been extensively studied by researchers. But according to one study of 10,000 participants, 37 per cent of women experienced diarrhea, while 32 per cent reported feeling constipated while on their period.

Symptoms such as sore breasts, headaches, skin breakouts are often linked to the hormonal changes brought on by the menstrual cycle, but how much and how often a woman experiences a bowel movements while on her period can also be attributed to many other factors.

Existing health conditions such as endometriosis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome or ulcerative colitis can exasperate symptoms. While age, diet, stress, exercise, water intake and gut microbiome play a role, poor lifestyle habits, iron supplements and some medications may also trigger constipation and slow down the digestive process for some women, while for others, a warm cup of Joe can overstimulate the bowels.

That said, when it comes to bowel habits, there is no hard and fast rule on what’s normal. Some experts suggest that an average person produces up to 1,100 grams of stool per week, and that while most people have a regular pattern, the frequency can range from three times a day to three times per week. Only 40 per cent of healthy people move their bowels once a day.


Diarrhea or constipation can show up either right before or during a woman’s menstrual cycle, and although uncomfortable, these symptoms are temporary and do resolve on their own.

For those struggling with constipation, experts suggest that adding foods rich in fibre and drinking more water should do the trick. To help manage symptoms such as diarrhea, it is recommended that women avoid or minimize triggers like caffeine as it can irritate the colon and stimulate bowel movements. If symptoms persist or become less manageable with at-home care, a general practitioner can suggest additional supports for relief.

Is there something about health that you (or a friend, wink, wink) have always wondered about, but are too embarrassed to ask? Send a note to info@healthing.ca. We promise your ‘friend’s’ secret – and identity –  is safe with us.

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