6 Sneaky Health Problems Caused By Your Period
Cramping. Bloating. Pimples the size of small planets. Insatiable cravings for carbs. Most of us can list at least a dozen different ways our periods impact our lives every month. But our fluctuating hormones can also affect us in ways we don't normally associate with our menstrual cycle. Keep reading for the health-related issues you (probably) never knew were linked to your monthly visitor.
A rapid, skipping, or fluttering heartbeat can occur around the time of your period. Heart palpitations "are common with any hormone fluctuation," such as those associated with the thyroid or perimenopause, says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at the NYU Medical Center. How do you know whether your abnormal heartbeat is a sign that something more serious is amiss? "If it's associated with shortness of breath, feeling like you're going to faint, fainting, or chest pains, then visit a doctor," says Dr. Goldberg. She also suggests you make an appointment to get checked out if the palpitations persist once your PMS has passed.
"There's been, for decades, an awareness of a relationship between hormones – and in particular, estrogen – and migraine frequency or migraine severity," says Vernon Williams, M.D., founding director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles. Dr. Williams points to new research showing that rapid drops in estrogen "may be part of the reason that some women are more prone to these menstrual migraines. If you believe hormones are to blame for your chronic head pain, Dr. Williams suggests that you get better sleep, drink more water, limit alcohol, and watch your stress levels as these are all migraine triggers. Additionally, in some cases, medication, hormone replacement therapy, or specific contraceptives may help.
Do you notice an increase in anxiety right before Aunt Flow comes to town? If so, your period may be to blame, says Prudence Hall, M.D., medical director at The Hall Center in Santa Monica, CA. Dr. Hall explains that, at ovulation, estrogen levels are between 300 and 500, but the closer you get to your period, the more levels fall, resulting in increased feelings of anxiety, due largely to the effect of lower estrogen levels on the brain. "Loss of confidence is quite common with PMS," says Dr. Hall, making the couple of weeks before your period "not a great time to make business decisions or make a new pitch to the boss." To help reduce these effects, Dr. Hall suggests taking 5-HTP and GABA supplements.
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines anemia as "a condition in which your blood has a lower than normal number of red blood cells," and part of what makes this particular health issue so sneaky, according to Arielle Levitan, M.D., co-founder of Vous Vitamin and author of The Vitamin Solution, is that it may not show up on routine lab work. "It must be profound to show up as anemia," says Dr. Levitan. The issue is rather common: "Most women end up iron deficient during their fertile years and long after that, often into their 80s, because they lose blood each month," says Dr. Levitan. To help combat this potential health problem, Dr. Levitan advises that you take "a personalized multivitamin that contains the proper amounts of iron in the proper combination with other nutrients (such as vitamin C to help with absorption) to help replenish these losses." Don't overdo it though, she says, as taking too much can result in constipation, abdominal pain, or cardiac effects.
Diarrhea or Constipation
Hormone fluctuations can also create issues with your intestinal tract. "When you are on your period, your body releases hormone-like substances called prostaglandins," says Draion M. Burch, M.D., national speaker and sexual health advisor for Astroglide. "Prostaglandins make smooth muscle contract, which is why you feel cramps. The uterus is made out of smooth muscle. Guess what else is made out of smooth muscle? The bowel." Depending on how much prostaglandin is released, you either wind up with diarrhea (too much prostaglandin) or constipation (too little). Other factors that can make bathroom matters worse include eating unhealthy foods and being anxious or stressed. That's why Dr. Burch suggests you "watch the diet more rigorously when on your period. Eat more fruits and veggies, and drink extra water. Also, take ibuprofen, which prevents prostaglandins from being released."
"During a woman's menstrual cycle, her progesterone rises and we see a change in the way her body reacts to plaque," says Kristy L. Gretzula, DDS, with Hawley Lane Dental in Connecticut. As a result, your gums may be more swollen, red, and tender, and bleed very easily. "The inflammation may be the worst in the few days before your period and then decrease once your period begins," says Dr. Gretzula, which is also when you are more likely to have canker sores and swollen salivary glands as these types of mouth-related issues are also more prevalent as hormones rise and fall. You may be able to bypass these by maintaining proper oral hygiene, says Dr. Gretzula. "I recommend daily flossing and the use of an electric toothbrush to my patients to help them keep their mouth as clean as possible."