The natural hormonal changes in your body that occur during menstruation can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms — one of the most common being constipation.
Experiencing constipation may be unpleasant, but it’s usually nothing to worry about; especially during your period.
However, if you’re keen to find out exactly why your period affects your bowel movements, or what you can do to relieve your symptoms, read on.
What causes constipation during your period?
Even with all the medical knowledge we possess nowadays, experts still can’t reach a consensus on exactly what causes constipation during menstruation.
As it stands, the hormonal changes that occur during a period are considered the most likely culprits. Fluctuations in your body’s levels of progesterone and oestrogen (the female sex hormones) are thought to be the leading contributor to period constipation
Before menstruation begins, progesterone begins to build up in your body. It’s understood that progesterone acts as a muscle relaxant, and this can lead to your bowel becoming so relaxed that passing stools becomes troublesome.
Your body’s level of oestrogen affects how your gastrointestinal system works, too. This is partly because your oestrogen receptors are located in the small intestines and stomach. These receptors may in turn prevent the muscles in your colon from fully relaxing, further affecting your ability to pass stools.
Certain underlying conditions (such as endometriosis and irritable bowel syndrome) may make you more prone to experiencing constipation during your period, too.
How can you treat constipation during your period?
Thankfully, treating constipation during your period isn’t difficult, and there are plenty of ways to relieve your symptoms.
Adjust your diet
If you regularly experience period constipation, one of the easiest ways to combat it is by altering your diet. Eating more fibre-rich foods can help to increase the size of your stool and help it move smoothly through your digestive system. Some fibre-packed foods to include in your diet include:
- Beans and lentils
Drink more water
One of the leading causes of constipation is dehydration, so make sure you’re getting enough fluid — especially if you’re on your period.
Don’t enjoy drinking plain water? Don’t worry! The fizziness from sparkling water and other carbonated beverages may actually help with constipation too — just don’t overdo it on sugary drinks. Another popular home remedy is warm water with added lemon. Foods such as soups and juicy fruits like oranges and satsumas are also great sources of hydration.
Get more exercise
A sedentary lifestyle can easily lead to constipation. If most of your day is spent sitting down, it’s time to get moving. Try taking a 20-minute walk on your lunch break or after you finish work, or if you’re more physically active, go for a run or join an exercise class. Physical movement gets your digestive system moving, so get active!
Don’t hold it in
When you need to go to the toilet — go! Never hold your bowel movements (unless you’ve got good reason to). Your constipation is only likely to worsen if you’re in the habit of ignoring your body’s urge to go to the toilet, so where possible you should empty your bowels as soon as you can once you feel the urge.
If you’re looking for fast relief from constipation, over-the-counter laxatives are your best bet. There are several different kinds of laxatives. These include:
These work by stimulating the muscles in your digestive tract, helping your stool to progress through the intestines. Stimulant laxatives include Senna, Dulcolax, and Dulcolax Pico. Stimulant laxatives act quickly but are only suited for short-term use. Stimulant laxatives are usually the best choice for relieving constipation caused by menstruation.
Bulk-forming laxatives are packed with high levels of fibre, which swell when it comes into contact with water. This helps to increase the size of your stools, making them easier for your digestive system to process. Both Fybogel and Normacol work in this way.
Similar to bulk-forming laxatives, osmotic laxatives increase the amount of fluid in the bowels, helping to soften and enlarge the stools. They’re a good option if bulk-forming laxatives don’t seem to have an effect, and common examples include Lactulose, Movicol, and Cosmocol.
Can you prevent period constipation?
Aside from the lifestyle changes mentioned above, there are a few other ways to reduce the chances of constipation.
- Hormonal birth control — some birth control methods can completely stop your periods, but you’ll need to talk to your GP or pharmacist before receiving your prescription.
- Probiotics — foods rich in probiotics (such as Greek yoghurt) can help ease any digestive issues you may be having due to your period. You can also buy over-the-counter probiotic supplements.
- Avoiding dietary triggers — try to reduce the amount of processed food and caffeine you consume. Replace junk food with fresh, home-cooked meals, and do your best to cut out any foods high in fat, sugar and starch as your period approaches.
When do I need to see a doctor?
Constipation is usually nothing to worry about, but occasionally it may be a sign of a more serious underlying condition.
If your constipation lasts longer than three days, it’s best to talk to your GP or pharmacist. If you experience any of the symptoms below, be sure to mention them during your visit:
- Extreme pain or discomfort
- Bloody, dark stools
- Pain in your lower back
- Particularly heavy bleeding during your period
- A throbbing pain in your pelvis and upper legs
- Persistent and severe digestive issues, both during and after your period
For further advice regarding constipation or menstrual relief, get in touch to arrange a consultation and we’ll figure out the right treatment for you.