Not the same kind of cramps!
March 16, 2012 2:51 PM   Subscribe

Why do I experience stomach/intestinal issues during my period? Those systems aren't connected! (Brief discussion of bodily functions contained within.)

So I have a basic knowledge of both the female reproductive system and the human digestive system, but my knowledge does not extend to understanding why, for my entire adult life, I get terrible gas, intestinal cramps (very different from uterine cramps!), and sometimes diarrhea just before and during my period. What's going on? I manage to deal with it OK, but I'm really curious as to why it happens.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (30 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
It's actually very common! Reason why pulled from here:

The exact reasons why diarrhea occurs during your period aren't fully understood, but it is quite common and often tied to menstrual cramps. Believed to be at the root of the cause are prostaglandins, chemicals released during your period that allow the uterus, and thus the intestines, to contract. Prostaglandins can also cause other pain associated with dysmenorrhea, the medical term for painful menstrual periods. Prostaglandin-related cramps and diarrhea usually occur in the first three days of your menstrual period.

“[Bowel movements] can change with differing hormone levels," says Francisco J. Marrero, MD, a gastroenterologist with the Digestive Disease Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. In fact, some women may even notice the opposite and become constipated during their period, Dr. Marrero says.
posted by brainmouse at 2:53 PM on March 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Due to our, ah, not-optimally designed lady parts, the hormones/enzymes that your body delivers to your reproductive system to cause your uterus to contract and expel the uterine lining each month also act on the nearby digestive system to cause your intestines to contract (they are both basically muscles). End result: intestinal cramps and the runs.

posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:54 PM on March 16, 2012 [27 favorites]

Everything is connected, alas.

Fun fact, I am constipated right before my period and have diarrhea during my period. Ahh, hormones, how I hate you. Intestinal issues tied to fluctuating hormone levels are very, very common for women, unfortunately.
posted by lydhre at 2:56 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Often happens to me as well. Nice to know why.
posted by dlugoczaj at 3:00 PM on March 16, 2012

This fascination episode of Skeptically Speaking talks a bunch about the evolution and science of menstruation, including a bit about cramps.
posted by HFSH at 3:02 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I didn't know there was anyone this didn't happen to. I don't even really get cramps; I know to hit the drugstore for supplies when the visits to the home office dramatically increase.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:09 PM on March 16, 2012

the two systems are "connected" by virtue of their both being constructed of smooth muscle; smooth muscle responds to prostaglandins (as explained by brainmouse). Also see,
posted by Tandem Affinity at 3:30 PM on March 16, 2012

I get constipated and then have to have what I call my "period poop" before my period can start.

When the constipation ends, it's all systems go!!!
posted by vitabellosi at 3:44 PM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

My gi doc says its related to estrogen. I didn't really listen to much past that. But there it is.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 3:55 PM on March 16, 2012

Yeah, happens to me too (and the majority of the women I know). It's hormone-related, as mentioned above. The reproductive system is so much FUN! (not at all fun)
posted by bedhead at 3:59 PM on March 16, 2012

It's also common to get diarrhea right before you have a baby.

Although I had this as a symptom of endometriosis that went away when I had surgery, so it can be that the two systems are literally connected via scar tissue as well, but it's probably not as likely as the above explanations.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:00 PM on March 16, 2012

Yup, totally normal.

I remember my awesome sex ed teacher covering this in high school. She explained to the class about the uterine cramping, and then explained to the class about the tendency to have GI distress at at the same time. Then she cocked an eye at the class at said "and you wonder why some women are cranky? You guys have no idea."

posted by ambrosia at 4:05 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This happens to me too... Makes that week just ever-so-much more pleasant, doesn't it?
posted by Gordafarin at 4:05 PM on March 16, 2012

Yup, just chiming in: happens to me too. Grumble.
posted by JuliaIglesias at 4:08 PM on March 16, 2012

Prostoglandins are evil. In other news, they're also helped *aside* from the pain part by NSAIDs. Preemptive Aleve made my monthly stomach issues pretty much go away entirely... unless I forget.
posted by gracedissolved at 4:17 PM on March 16, 2012

Yes, preemptive Aleve is good for this, and can also be good for period-related acne.
posted by HotToddy at 4:19 PM on March 16, 2012

Normal, and very, very common.

I've found that an acidophilus supplement really helps keep that under control if you want to give it a try.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:20 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Sadly, this is one of those things that they conveniently forget to tell you when you get the joy-and-mystery-of-womanhood talk.
posted by smirkette at 4:31 PM on March 16, 2012 [6 favorites]

This got much better for me when I switched from taking ibuprofen to naproxen for cramps. Turns out I'm one of the lucky, lucky people who is sensitive to ibuprofen. Maybe you are, too?
posted by corey flood at 5:01 PM on March 16, 2012

I thought for years that I had awful period cramps. A couple of months ago, I realised that actually, those feelings are constipation!

I never get constipated outside my period, so I never put two and two together. I just thought I was weird for mostly getting cramps while on the crapper.
posted by pickingupsticks at 5:26 PM on March 16, 2012

Ibuprofen actually helps me with this. That and water and being nice to myself generally.
posted by SMPA at 6:07 PM on March 16, 2012

Yup me too. Periods are gross enough without diarrhea. Bleh.
posted by agress at 7:52 PM on March 16, 2012

I used to have to take Immodium during my period week just to get by. I started taking Zoloft a few months ago and realized recently that everything is better, including my periods. Just another anti-depressant bonus!
posted by cooker girl at 8:14 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

This thread is hysterical. (As I sit here cramping.) (pun not intended.)
posted by Lexica at 9:11 PM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am so relieved to read this.

That is all.
posted by R343L at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

I am currently bkeeding everywhere, constipated, cramps, etc.
It all got worse (stomach issues) when I turned 30 last year. :|
posted by KogeLiz at 10:18 PM on March 16, 2012

posted by KogeLiz at 10:18 PM on March 16, 2012

I find that Evening Primrose taken at first signs of PMS or starting a day or two before period seems to lessen the severity of all symptoms.

I, too, get gastro issues plus canker sores and insomnia around shark week. Truly delightful.
posted by amanda at 12:25 AM on March 17, 2012

Count me in too, though for constipation with super-cramps. The Pill and an operation that removed endometriotic tissue helped get rid of the worst, but I was still left with pretty painful cramps (think "remember to take deep breaths at work instead of instinctively doubling over and groaning"). I also have ibuprofen sensitivity, which I didn't find out until moving to France and getting prescribed Spasfon (phloroglucinol), an anti-spasmodic that made my cramps magically disappear for the first time in my life. When I forgot to take it, I discovered that my double-over-and-groan cramps actually mainly happened in the mornings and evenings, and the ghost crampish pain I'd felt the rest of the day was gone without ibuprofen. Ibuprofen's not so great for the stomach anyhow, so other options are good, yes. (I'm sorry to say Spasfon isn't available in the US... shame, it's cheap and safe enough that it's prescribed to pregnant women.)
posted by fraula at 2:51 AM on March 17, 2012

ghost crampish pain

!!! That's what I call the mild cramps I get for a full week before I start bleeding. Ghost cramps! They make me think I'll start bleeding any minute. And then it takes days and days before I do. (this is a new phenomenon).
posted by vitabellosi at 3:27 AM on March 20, 2012

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