Jack Harley
Reviewed by Dr Michael Yapko
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Jennifer Smith
Thursday, August 20, 2020

Period Poops: What you need to know about poops during your period

Contents

Have you ever wondered why poops are different during your period? While people might not talk about it, most women will experience a monthly change in their toilet habits. In addition to your period causing symptoms like headaches, bloating, and skin breakouts, your menstrual cycle can also affect your digestive system. One reason for this is because the same hormones that stimulate uterine contractions can also stimulate your bowels. The result: period poops. 

Symptoms

So, what exactly are period poops? Although you won’t find this term in a medical dictionary, it’s a common way to describe changes in your bowel movements around the time of your period. A recent study showed that gastric symptoms (similar to those experienced with IBS), are common during your period.

Some symptoms of period poops can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating

In addition to proving that period poops are a common occurrence, the study also showed that you’re more likely to experience digestive issues during your period if you’re also experiencing emotional symptoms, like depressed mood and anxiety.

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What causes period poops?

Who's the culprit? First off, it might be your hormones. Period poops can be caused by two hormones called prostaglandins and progesterone.

Additionally, your digestive symptoms might worsen due to stress levels or changes in your diet (like, for instance, how your period makes you want to eat a box of donuts for dinner).

1. Higher levels of prostaglandins

Before the start of your period, the cells in your uterus begin to release prostaglandins to kick start contractions that shed the lining of your uterus.

Prostaglandins may also be released into your bloodstream. While prostaglandins do a good (and sometimes painful) job of getting the walls of the uterus to contract as part of your monthly menses (aka, your period), these hormones can also cause the muscles of the intestines to contract.

This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain

Additionally, prostaglandins may cause the body to absorb more water and make stools softer, causing diarrhea. This may be worsened if you drink coffee while on your period, as caffeine has a laxative effect.

 2. Higher levels of progesterone

Progesterone is another type of hormone released into your body as part of your monthly cycle. Progesterone helps regulate your period: levels of this hormone rise to prepare your body for conception and pregnancy, then drop at the start of your menses if no egg is fertilized.

Progesterone helps thicken the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg may develop, but this hormone can have other effects on the body too.

In some people, progesterone can also cause loose and watery stools and diarrhea. While for others, it can cause constipation. This is because high levels of progesterone can cause digested materials to travel more slowly through your system.

For people living with existing bowel issues, such as Crohn’s disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), progesterone can make their symptoms worse. For example, people with IBS are more likely to experience additional symptoms, such as abdominal pain and headaches, during the period.

3. Changes in diet

Ever wondered why you  reach for more sweet or salty foods during your period? Once more, your hormones are to blame. During the luteal phase (after ovulation and before you period) increased levels of progesterone may induce unusual cravings and influence your diet.

For people who eat a generally healthy diet, the sudden introduction of new or unhealthy foods can also change the smell of poop.

For example, eating foods high in fat and sugar lead to a change in the consistency, regularity, and smell of your stools during your period.

If you’re worried about your poop suddenly smelling worse during your period, try and avoid overeating and cut out refined sugars and processed foods. 

4. Stress and anxiety

Changes in mood and stress levels are common during your period. Again, this can be linked to changes in hormone levels throughout your menstrual cycle. Studies have shown that your cycle can affect mood regulation and increase negative emotions and sensitivity to stress.

Stress and anxiety have been shown to affect bowel movements and can cause diarrhea or constipation. This is because what happens in your brain can affect what happens in your gut.
The nerves in your stomach are linked to the brain through an internal link called the gut-brain connection.

While this means stress and anxiety can directly upset your gut, it also means you have the power to help reduce physical symptoms with your mind.

A recent study by Australian researchers showed that hypnotherapy is an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because it helps people retrain their gut-brain connection.

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Why do period poops hurt?

There are several reasons why passing a bowel movement may hurt during your period. These include:

  • Constipation: prostaglandins and progesterone (hormones that rise around the time of your period) can make you constipated. If you are experiencing hard and dry stools during your period, they may be painful to pass. 
  • Menstrual cramps: you might experience a flare in menstrual pain when straining to pass a bowel movement.
  • Pain sensitivity: During your period, you are more sensitive to pain. So you may experience more pain and have a heightened awareness of it. 

How to deal with period poops

If you’re struggling with frequent bathroom trips every month, there are things you can do to reduce your symptoms. Although there’s no single cure for “period poops”, if you follow these simple steps you could reduce the likelihood of digestive trouble:

 1. Eat clean 

To avoid digestive troubles during your period, try to eat clean as much as possible. It might be hard to resist certain food and say no to food cravings, but do your best to remove hard-to-digest foods and beverages from your diet.

The following foods and drinks are associated with gastrointestinal upset and should be avoided during your period:

  • Fried foods
  • Stimulants (like coffee and tea)
  • Sugary foods (like chocolate and cake)
  • Too much water (if you tend to have diarrhea on your period)

2. Get moving

Several studies have shown various types of exercise can improve your digestion. If you’re not feeling up to a long run during your period, you can try gentle activities such as walking, swimming, or cycling. Some other effective exercises for gastrointestinal upset include:

  • Yoga: this ancient practise combines body postures, breathing exercises, and meditation. Several studies have shown that yoga can reduce symptoms of IBS, as well as calm anxiety.
  • Tai Chi: this Chinese mind-body practice uses gentle movement to promote health and general well-being. Daily practice of tai chi has been shown to improve symptoms of IBS more effectively than medications.  

3. Take ibuprofen

Ibuprofen is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication commonly used to treat pain and fever. Taking ibuprofen 24 hours before your period starts can prevent the release of prostaglandins. This over-the-counter medication may also help to control inflammation in the uterus and the bowels to reduce pain.

Most people can take ibuprofen, as it is generally well-tolerated. However, ibuprofen may cause side effects such as:

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

4. Ask your doctor about going on the pill

If your period poops are severe and are getting in the way of your daily life, it might be time to ask for help. Your doctor, in some cases, may advise you to start the contraceptive pill.

The pill prevents ovulation and keeps levels of poop-causing prostaglandins low. In turn, this may help reduce cramps, nausea, and pain associated with bowel movements.

If you’re thinking about taking the pill to help with your digestion problems, make sure you consult a doctor first. The pill is an extreme treatment option and there may be other side-effects. 

How can I stop my tampon from coming out when pooping?

Straining hard to pass a bowel movement may also dislodge your tampon during period poops. The orientation of pelvic muscles in your body may make some people more likely to push out their tampon during a bowel movement. 

There are a few simple things you can do to keep your tampon in place:

  • Eat a high-fiber diet to reduce constipation.
  • Try not to strain when passing a bowel movement.
  • Consider alternatives to tampons, such as a menstrual cup (or even a pad).

Is it period poop or IBS?

Period poop, as the name suggests, is a bout of digestion troubles that happens just before or during your period. However, if you’re having bowel problems frequently, with symptoms occurring at different points in your cycle, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

About 14% of the population has IBS. This condition can cause a range of digestive problems, the most common of which include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloating and gas
  • Mucous in stools

If you think you might have IBS, it is best to seek medical advice for a diagnosis.  

Are the digestive and reproductive systems linked?

Period poops show us how the reproductive system can influence the digestive tract. But did you know, it can work the other way as well?

People with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are more likely to have severe period cramps and be diagnosed with premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) than those who do not. In addition, research has identified a link between IBS, period pain, and endometriosis

Similar conditions

If you’re having tummy troubles, it might not just be a case of the period poops.

There are several conditions that have similar symptoms to period poop that could indicate a more severe underlying gastrointestinal or gynecological condition. These conditions may also flare up during your period. Some such conditions include:

If your symptoms are particularly severe, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

When to see a doctor

If you think you might have a more serious problem, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional. Changes in bowel movements during your period are normal, but you should seek medical advice if you experience the following:

  • Severe cramps or abdominal pain
  • Heavy periods
  • Mucous in your stools
  • Blood in the stools
  • Rectal or anal pain

Your doctor can help you find a diagnosis and provide treatment options.

Summary

If you’re having ‘period poops’, it means you’re experiencing diarrhea, constipation, or foul-smelling poop around the time of your period. Period poops are pretty normal. Many women experience this monthly change in their toilet habits, especially if they’re prone to emotional changes during their cycle. It’s partially caused by changing levels of hormones such as prostaglandins and progesterone. In some people, stools may become watery and loose, whereas, in others, they may be hard and more difficult to pass. Maintaining a healthy diet and exercising should help to relieve symptoms. In more extreme cases, ibuprofen or taking the contraceptive pill should help to reduce symptoms.

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Calm your IBS in just 6 weeks with Nerva

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Mindset Health only uses high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed research, to support our articles. We work with experts to ensure our content is helpful, accurate and trustworthy.

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