Have you ever thought why do I poo more on my period? It can be embarrassing to chat about, but don’t worry, the experts at WUKA are here to talk for you.
What is ‘period poo’?
So-called ‘period poo’ refers to the common symptom of digestive complaints during your period. Ie, you poop more when you have your period.
These are monthly changes that happen to your bowel habits, during your cycle, that you probably don’t really talk about… but if you did, you’d realise just how common they really are. It’s not just headaches, bloating and mood swings unfortunately!
Signs that you’re experiencing ‘period poo’
If you think you’re suffering from a tummy upset you should always seek medical advice on the best course of action to take to treat it. But if you’re wondering if you could be experiencing ‘period poo’, here are the signs to look out for:
- Abdominal pain/ cramps- a common PMS symptom and most usually felt during the first few days of your period.
- Nausea- some women also experience vomiting.
- Constipation- another fun symptom that often goes hand in hand with loose stools, but one that can really make you feel rotten too.
- Bloating- again, another common PMS symptom. Most women experience this in the days leading up to their period, but lots also experience it during their period too.
- An increase in Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms- lots of women are actually misdiagnosed with IBS due to changes in their bowel habits during their period.
What causes period poo?
So what causes us to poop more during our period, and what can we do settle an upset tummy when we’re also dealing with period cramps, bloating and more?
A 2015 study looked into the effects of the menstrual cycle on bowel habits of women and found that hormone fluctuations could be the answer.
According to the study, the rise and fall of oestrogen and progesterone can ‘influence the GI function’ and this is especially common in women who suffer with IBS. The study also found that women with IBS were more likely to report symptoms of ‘period poo’.
A further study done in 2014, which looked into gastrointestinal symptoms in women at different stages of their cycle, found that changes to bowel habits were common both before and during menstruation- and noted that women who experienced emotional symptoms of PMS (mood swings, depression, fatigue) were also more likely to experience these changes.
This finding is backed up by this 2015 study which concludes that the gut microbiota has a role to play in ‘influencing brain development, behaviour and mood’, and this 2019 study agrees, noting that the health of our gut can directly impact brain function and mental heath. More research is needed, but it does seem that hormones could play a part in these changes to our bowel movements.
Levels of progesterone
Delving a little further into fluctuating hormones, it seems that it could be mainly progesterone playing havoc with your toilet habits during your period.
For some, as noted in this 2005 study, high levels of this hormone can result in constipation. For others, the changes in levels of progesterone can have the opposite effect, with stools becoming looser and more watery.
This study reports that the drop of progesterone may contribute towards GI symptoms. And this 2021 study supports this, concluding that ‘gastro-intestinal and pain symptoms were associated with lower progesterone levels.’
High levels of prostaglandins
Prostaglandin is a natural chemical which can be found in tissues in the body. They help to regulate inflammation, pain, cell growth, and body temperature.
Levels of prostaglandin increase as your period approaches, causing your uterus to contract to help get rid of the lining of your womb. The presence of prostaglandin can cause stomach cramps, bloating, nausea, headaches, diarrhoea, and constipation.
Higher levels of prostaglandin cause oxygen to get temporarily cut-off to muscles and can cause severe period cramps.
Teenagers have a higher amount of prostaglandin in their body and therefore may experience more intense period cramps. As they get older they may find that the cramps lesson as the levels of prostaglandin reduces.
During the second stage of your menstrual cycle, progesterone levels increase, which can speed up or slow down your digestion system. Again, this can cause loose stools or constipation.
The foods you crave during your period could also have an effect on ‘period poo’ too. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet is the best way to keep cramps at bay and to keep your bowel movements regular too.
Stress is a known cause of inflammation in the body, and lots of us experience changes in bowel movements as a result.
This 2005 study reports that stress, our thoughts and our emotions have a ‘profound influence’ on gastrointestinal function, and studies like this one show clearly that PMS symptoms can affect bowel movements too- again highlighting another potential cause for ‘period poo’.
What conditions can affect ‘period poo’?
There are some medical conditions that can also have an effect on your bowel habits during your period.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is very common, affecting around one in five in the UK, with two thirds of those sufferers being female.
IBS causes a range of symptoms, such as stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. Lots of women experience a worsening of symptoms during their period, as this study highlights.
If you have IBS, follow NHS advice to try and manage your symptoms:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet, avoiding processed foods and excess salt and sugar
- Avoid ‘trigger’ foods that worsen your symptoms
- Reduce stress
- Take regular exercise
- Try probiotics- studies show they could help to reduce symptoms
Endometriosis is a condition which affects around 1.5million women in the UK. With endometriosis, cells that are usually found in the uterus are found growing in other places, yet these cells behave as if they are correctly placed. This means that each month they build up, then break down and bleed, just like cells in the uterus.
But unlike the cells in the uterus, the blood they produce cannot be released as your period, as it has no form of ‘escape’- so instead, the blood builds up and results in inflammation, severe pain and eventual scarring.
The symptoms of endometriosis include:
- Pain in lower abdomen and lower back
- Severe period pain
- Pain during sex
- Pain when using the loo
- Changes to your bowel habits- diarrhoea, constipation
- Difficulty conceiving
Some women suffer with endometriosis in the bowel, which makes using the loo very painful and can result in constipation too. Lots of women report irregular bowel movements too.
Some women experience heavier and more painful periods, and some also suffer with gastrointestinal distress too. This is due to the location of the fibroids, as in some cases they cab press on to the large intestine. In some cases, the size of uterine fibroids can cause a blockage, which can lead to constipation.
Your GP will refer you for more tests if uterine fibroids are suspected.
The NHS advises that ovarian cysts are common and usually go away by themselves without treatment. However in some cases, they can cause a few symptoms that need looking into.
Ovarian cysts can cause bloating and swelling to the abdomen, and some women also experience changes to their bowel movements too. Speak to your GP about your symptoms if you suspect you may have ovarian cysts, so that you can discuss the correct course of treatment for you.
Lots of women with PCOS report symptoms similar to those of IBS: feeling bloated, constipation and/ or diarrhoea, stomach pains.
This 2009 study concluded that women with PCOS were more likely to suffer with IBS, but more research is needed into the reasons why this is the case.
How to manage period poo
There are a couple of things you can do that may help to balance your digestive system throughout the month to help during your period, such as
- Include fibre in your diet, so eating plenty of vegetables, fruit, and whole grains. The fibre will help to keep your bowel movements regular
- Speak to your doctor to ask if vitamin B6 or calcium tablets would help reduce stomach upsets leading up to your period
- The contraceptive pill could be effective, as it can prevent a surge in progesterone levels
- Avoid irritating foods during your periods, such as caffeine and fatty or greasy foods
- Speak to your pharmacist to see if taking anti-diarrhoea or laxative tablets would benefit you
The bottom line on period poo
Leading up to your period, prostaglandin and progesterone levels rise. This has an effect on your body, leaving you feeling sick and bloated, with cramps, diarrhoea, or constipation.
There are things you can do through diet, supplements, and medication to help manage the symptoms.
If it’s not affecting your everyday life then it’s just one of the natural and annoying things that we experience during our period.
If, however, your bowel movements, sickness, or stomach cramps are affecting your day-to-day life then go and speak to your doctor to check there are no underlying health conditions.
Is it normal to poop a lot on my period?
In a word, yes! Fluctuating hormones, along with PMS symptoms and certain medical conditions you may also have can all have an impact on your bowel movements.
However, if you notice changes to your bowel movements that you’re concerned about, you should always speak to you GP to discuss the potential causes.
How can I stop pooping so much on my period?
Speak to your doctor about potentially taking diarrhoea medication to help you reduce your bowel movements, and to help combat loose stools. Make sure your diet is healthy, with lots of fibre, and cut down on sugary, salty processed food and alcohol.
Are period poops healthy?
‘Period poo’ is usually completely normal, but if its interfering with your everyday life then its always a good idea to speak to your GP to rule out other potential causes.