Crohn’s disease can have an impact on many aspects of your life, from what you eat to the activities you do. It might also affect your menstrual cycle.

Some women find their Crohn’s symptoms get worse around the time of their period. Others have more painful or irregular periods. Having more sporadic periods can be a big problem if you’re trying to get pregnant.

The following are a few ways Crohn’s disease can affect your menstrual cycle, and what to do about it.

Crohn’s disease can throw your normal menstrual cycle out of whack. Your periods may come more often, less often, or not at all.

These disturbances to your cycle are in part due to changing hormone levels. Drugs you take to manage your Crohn’s symptoms may also be involved. Steroid medications can make your menstrual cycles more erratic.

Irregular periods can be a problem if you want to get pregnant. But once you’ve lived with Crohn’s for a few years, your periods should become more regular again.

Most people are diagnosed with Crohn’s disease between ages 15 and 35. Girls diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in their early teens typically get their first period later than usual.

Taking steroids or being underweight can also delay your first period. Some girls don’t even get a period until their Crohn’s goes into remission.

Crohn’s disease can affect your period symptoms and vice versa. If you’ve noticed your Crohn’s symptoms get worse during the time around your period, you’re not imagining things.

A 2014 study found that women with an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis have more pain and a heavier flow during their periods than those without IBD. They also have an uptick in symptoms, like diarrhea, nausea, belly cramps, and gas.

Women who had painful periods before they got their Crohn’s diagnosis tend to have more pain and other symptoms during their periods than those who didn’t.

Researchers think some of the Crohn’s symptoms that occur during your period may be due to the release of substances called prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins make your uterus contract to expel its lining. They also make muscles in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract contract, which can cause symptoms like pain and diarrhea.

Inflammation from Crohn’s disease may affect levels of hormones that contribute to period symptoms. Whether you experience more or worse Crohn’s symptoms during your period may depend on your condition’s severity and what medications you take to treat it.

Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether your period or Crohn’s disease is to blame for how you feel. The two conditions can cause confusingly similar symptoms, including:

  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • achiness
  • irritability
  • trouble sleeping

Hormones control your menstrual cycle. Each month, the pituitary gland at the base of your brain releases follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). These hormones stimulate follicles in your ovaries to mature and produce an egg.

Estrogen levels gradually rise throughout your cycle. This leads to a surge in LH, which causes one egg to mature. Levels of the hormone progesterone rise to prepare the lining of your uterus for a possible pregnancy.

If you don’t get pregnant, your hormone levels drop. Your uterine lining sheds and you get your period.

Crohn’s disease causes inflammation, which can alter levels of the hormones that control your menstrual cycle. This can lead to more irregular periods.

One way to manage both your period and Crohn’s symptoms is to take birth control pills.

Birth control pills may make your periods more regular, lighter, and less painful. The pill can also improve Crohn’s symptoms that flare up around the time of your period.

Use caution when taking certain over-the-counter treatments for period symptoms. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and aspirin can make your Crohn’s disease symptoms worse, and they may trigger a flare.

See the doctor who treats your Crohn’s disease if you notice your symptoms get worse around the time of your period. If your periods are painful or irregular, see a gynecologist for advice.

Your doctor may want to check you for other diseases that can cause similar symptoms, like endometriosis. Women with endometriosis have an increased risk for Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease can affect your menstrual cycle. Your periods may not come as regularly as they did before you got your diagnosis. You may have more pain, diarrhea, and other symptoms during your periods.

Eventually, your menstrual cycle should even out. Managing your Crohn’s disease with the right treatment should help put you back into a normal cycle rhythm.