Here’s why your period is making you constipated (and what you can do about it)

Struggling to go during your period? There's a reason for that.
Struggling to go during your period? There's a reason for that.

Periods have a number of side-effects, which differ from person to person. Apart from cramping and bloating, constipation may also pop up during that time of the month.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, it is common for women to experience a manageable level of digestive distress when they are menstruating. These issues may include cramps, bloating, indigestion, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation.

Hormones are to blame 

Did you know that the tummy turmoil you might experience during your period has nothing to do with your digestive system? During your menstrual cycle, hormones are released that may have an inflammatory effect on your body.

According to Dr Donald Ford, a family physician at the Cleveland Clinic, the build-up of the hormone progesterone is the most likely cause of constipation right before, during or shortly after menstrual bleeding. Progesterone causes the thickening of the uterine walls just before you ovulate, which may lead to constipation several days before you start menstruating.

Progesterone also causes food to move more slowly through your intestines, causing you to feel backed up.

According to the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFGD), constipation as a side-effect of menstruation might be even worse for those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). 

What can you do?

Rest assured that bowel changes during your period are normal, but when things become unbearable, you need to see your doctor. If the meantime, here’s what you can do:

  • Start drinking more water and increase your fibre intake in the middle of your cycle, as progesterone levels start peaking when you ovulate.
  • Try to eliminate heavily processed foods and alcohol, and reduce caffeine intake during your period.
  • If your constipation is paired with pain and discomfort, some experts suggest that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may help your body to produce fewer prostaglandins in the uterus lining. Prostaglandins are also likely to cause menstrual cramps, which may make you feel even worse.
  • Keep on exercising during your period, as this will stimulate the digestive system. If you don’t feel up to a heavy workout, try light aerobic exercise such as walking or swimming, or enjoy a relaxing yoga session.
  • Try a laxative if all else fails. If the laxative is too harsh, consult your pharmacist about a milder brand.   
  • See your doctor if your constipation is unmanageable. According to Dr Ford, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor if any side-effects of your period become unbearable, as there might be an underlying cause that needs to be addressed. If you experience bloody stool or severe abdominal cramps, you should see your doctor as soon as possible.

Image credit: iStock 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.