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Period Facts: Five Menstruation Symptoms You May Not Know About

If you’re one of the lucky people who regularly ride the hormonal rollercoaster that is a menstrual cycle, you’ll be no stranger to a monthly side order of symptoms.

Cramps? Check. Bloating? You’re not kidding. Burning rage? Preach! But not everyone is familiar with the more under-discussed symptoms – and ladies, knowledge is power.

So, today we’re going to take you on a tour of five menstruation symptoms you may not know about, complete with the scientific explanations behind them.

The question is, how many of them do you regularly experience?

Here’s what we’ll be deep diving into:

  • Many women experience symptoms that aren’t commonly associated with their periods each month.
  • Hormonal changes in the body can impact your breathing, bowel movements and oral health.
  • Over 50% of women who experience migraines can link them to their menstrual cycle.
  • Iron deficiency can exacerbate PMS and cause cravings.

The phases of the menstrual cycle explained

Before we begin, let’s re-familiarise ourselves with the three phases of the menstrual cycle.

The beginning of the cycle is called the follicular phase (pre-ovulation), and then we move to the second phase, ovulation. Post ovulation, we enter the luteal phase, which runs until just before the end of menstruation.

We’re not just showing off our big science brains by telling you this, but because each of our five unusual symptoms has its place in the cycle.

Let’s take a look at those symptoms and why they occur.

Menstruation Symptom 1: Breathing problems

Have you noticed that you feel short of breath during the second half of your cycle? We’re not talking gasping for air-style drama, but instead a marked difference in the ease of breathing and depth of your breaths.

From the mid-follicular to the mid-luteal phase, the hormone progesterone is at a higher level in your body. With progesterone riding high, the impact on the respiratory system is two-fold: breathing becomes more stressed, and the outflow of carbon dioxide increases.

This isn’t ideal, respiratory-wise, and it’s also bad news for the body, which needs carbon dioxide for oxygenation. Feel rubbish the week before your period as well as during menstruation itself? You can thank progesterone and its carbon dioxide thieving for that.

 

What the researchers say

At Haukeland University Hospital in Bergen, Norway, doctors did a study into How the Menstrual Cycle Affects Respiratory Symptoms.

They discovered the nearly 4,000 women in their research found ‘large and consistent changes in respiratory symptoms according to their menstrual cycle phase’.

The study group was a mix of women with different smoking statuses, BMI, and some with respiratory conditions like asthma. Interestingly, there was a mid-cycle dip in wheezing symptoms for asthmatics during ovulation.

Menstruation Symptom 2: Constipation followed by diarrhoea

Ambassador, you’re really spoiling us with the one-two punch of constipation followed by diarrhoea.

While this wouldn’t be our preferred subject for dinner party conversation, we wish more people shared their experiences of this period phenomenon. If only so others realise it’s much more usual than they might imagine.

Once again, we must point the finger at our dear friend progesterone, which acts as a muscle relaxant, so it decreases contractions in the bowel at the beginning of the luteal phase.

Tell me more

You might find that on the run-up to your period, there’s nothing doing in the number two department, but once you come on, suddenly, it’s all systems go.

It’s down to chemicals called prostaglandins, which rush into your uterus at the beginning of your period to cause the muscle contractions that’ll force the uterine lining out.

The muscle-contracting efforts of prostaglandins cause those familiar cramps, and as an added bonus, sometimes they stray into the GI tract too.

Contracting the GI tract usually leads to increased bowel movements and sometimes diarrhoea. What a treat.

 

What the researchers say

In the BMC Women’s Health Journal, Matthew T Bernstein et al published their research into Gastrointestinal Symptoms Before and During Menses in Healthy Women.

Their study found, “The experience of one or more GI symptoms was very common for healthy women both before and during menses.

“Not surprisingly, abdominal pain was quite frequent, but around one-quarter of the women [in this study] experienced bowel habit disturbance in the form of diarrhoea.”

Menstruation Symptom 3: Menstrual Gingivitis

Don’t be too grateful that we’ve left the nether regions behind because now we need to talk about gingivitis.

You may notice pain and discomfort in your mouth every month, but many of us don’t link it to our menstrual cycles.

However, the hormonal surges that happen during puberty, during our periods, when using birth control, in pregnancy and menopause can all impact our oral health.

 

What the researchers say

The American Dental Association helpfully published a guide called Hormones and Dental Health: What Every Woman Needs To Know.

In a nutshell, they explain that menstrual gingivitis can happen during the first part of the luteal phase, after ovulation but before you bleed. That’s because the surge of hormones oestrogen and, you’ve guessed it, progesterone during that part of the cycle can increase blood flow to the gums.

The blood flow increases because oestrogen expands the blood vessels, including those in your gums. In turn, the gums become more sensitive to bacteria and plaque and can’t fight plaque formation as effectively as usual.

When plaque builds up, even though it’s temporary due to the cycle, it can inflame the gums and cause bleeding. The good news is that menstrual gingivitis will recede when you start bleeding, and the hormone levels plummet.

 

Menstruation Symptom 4: Migraines

Do you regularly have migraines that seem to come along around the same time as your period? They could be menstrual migraines.

If you experience menstrual migraines, it’ll likely be during the two days before you come on or the first three days you are bleeding.

That’s due to oestrogen and prostaglandin fluctuations during the menstrual cycle’s luteal phase.

 

What the researchers say

Did you know that The National Migraine Centre UK found that more than 50% of the women who suffer from migraines could link them to their periods?

This incredible statistic is under-reported but impacts many ladies, and it’s down to those pesky hormones again.

The level of oestrogen decreases dramatically at the end of your cycle while the prostaglandin hormones are at their height. That’s why menstrual migraines often occur during those first three days of your period.

Not very fun fact about menstrual migraines – they are reported to be more severe and often recur the following day. Take a look at the NMC UK’s Menstrual Migraine Factsheet to learn more.

Menstruation Symptom 5: Iron Cravings

When you bleed, the iron levels in your body decrease and no one’s body enjoys being iron-depleted. That’s when the iron cravings begin.

You might find that, during menstruation, even the most dedicated vegetarian begins gazing at steak with a longing usually reserved for Jason Momoa.

Thankfully, we don’t have to compromise our morals meat-wise because there are plenty of ways to consume iron that doesn’t involve filet mignon. But you certainly shouldn’t ignore those iron cravings.

What the researchers say

Researchers at The University of Massachusetts have found that women who consume over 20 mg of iron daily are 30-40% less likely to develop PMS.

Their study – Intake of Selected Minerals and Risk of Premenstrual Syndrome – was conducted over 10 years and focused on a group of 3,025 American nurses between the ages of 25 and 42-years old.

Interestingly, the women with the highest iron intake in this study got it from non-meat sources.

 

Time to take action

If you experience heavy bleeding during menstruation, book in with your GP to check if you are iron deficient. None of us needs to be working with low iron levels when you can easily add it to your diet from meat and non-meat sources.

After all, why would you want to experience severe PMS when there are ways to reduce its intensity?

We hope you’ve gleaned some useful information from our look at unusual menstrual symptoms.

Make sure to share this with your friends so they can fully understand what’s happening to their bodies if they experience these lesser-known symptoms.

Liked this? Check out our other articles on menstruation on our Kari Health Hub.

Evidence Based
This article has been reviewed by our Kari Health Experts and Editorial Board to ensure accuracy and reliability of the information presented. However, please note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and should not replace advice from your medical professional.

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