Why Our Period Is A Sh*tshow (Literally)

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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I’m just going to cut to the chase: My bowels are pretty much ruled by my menstrual cycle, and it’s a damn mess.

Some weeks are fine in the poop department. I let one loose in the morning after breakfast, and then I sail through my day with nary a toot. But other weeks, I waver between being abysmally constipated and bloated, or shitting four times a day like a freaking firehose. And I can time when this happens based on where I am in my cycle.

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Being a woman is a blast, isn’t it?

I know I’m not alone here. Almost everyone I know gets period diarrhea (or digestive upset related to their period) at least sometimes. I poop about 40 times on the day before my period arrives—that’s how I know it’s coming. My girlfriend sometimes even vomits on the first day of her cycle.

Why doesn’t anyone talk about the literal shit (and puke) storm that accompanies PMS and menstrual cramps?

Ovulation is no picnic for us women either. I have a different friend who barfs each time she ovulates (super-helpful when she was trying to conceive: she knew exactly when she was fertile). When I ovulate, I bloat up so bad that I look like I’m six months pregnant—and all I’m doing is releasing a freaking egg.

WTF is up with our hormones, ladies? Why do they have to go and wreak havoc on our intestines every single month? And why isn’t anyone talking about this?

When it comes to period diarrhea, it seems that we can blame something called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are released to help the uterus contract and release our menstrual flow. Only problem is that they tend to get into our bowels as well. And you know what happens when bowels start to contract a little too intensely…

Yep, you become chained to your toilet for the foreseeable future.

“Prostaglandins have an effect on smooth muscle, and the bowel is actually a smooth muscle,” explains Jennifer Gunter, M.D, in an interview with Women’s Health. “Looser stools than normal, having to go to the bathroom more often, and feeling more urgency—like, I gotta go now—are all very common side effects of a sharp rise in prostaglandins.”

Not all women have this intense an experience with those pesky prostaglandins, says Gunter, and that’s likely because women produce varying amounts of them. Clearly, some women just produce a whole hell of a lot of them (like me — yay!).

Gunter offers some solutions for us “prostaglandin over-producers.” We can change our diets right before our periods, eating fewer fried food or fiber-rich foods (really anything that makes us go more frequently). Additionally, keeping our stress levels low (umm, easier said than done when we have raging PMS) can help, because stress affects the bowels.

Finally, says Gunter, if you are experiencing major intestinal woes during PMS, you might consider hormonal birth control to level things out. Another option is to take ibuprofen 24 hours before your period starts, because it prohibits the release of prostaglandins. Interesting, huh? Never heard of that one before.

As for the digestion-related woes that many of us experience during ovulation, there really isn’t much out there besides anecdotal evidence of this phenomenon. Google “bloating during ovulation,” or “constipation during ovulation,” for example, and every message board on the Internet will pop up with story after story of women who experience it.

The only tummy-related ovulation symptom recognized by doctors is Mittelschmerz (German for “middle pain”), which refers to belly pain during ovulation, usually on one side of the body. Mittelschmerz itself hurts like a mofo, but many of us experience bloating and constipation along with it too. Some of us are blessed with nausea and puking then too (well, if you’re my dear girlfriend, at least).

For most of us, all of the digestive crap (sorry, had to) associated with our periods is not too awful or debilitating (if it is, definitely ask your doctor about it — you deserve to feel better). We’re women. We’re strong AF and we just deal with whatever comes up.

But shit, our bodies (and all the amazing things they can do) can also be a freaking pain-in-the-butt sometimes. Literally. And we have every right to bitch and complain about that as much as we goddamn please.

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