The period flu isn’t a legit medical term, but it sure does sum up how crummy some people feel during their period.
Flu-like symptoms such as headache, nausea, and even fever are just some of the complaints that have people wondering if they’re getting sick or going crazy during that time of the month.
The good news: You’re not crazy or alone — period flu is definitely a thing, based on anecdotal evidence. And it has nothing to do with the actual flu, so there’s that.
The bad news: It’s still poorly understood and not always acknowledged in the medical community.
Read on to learn more about why you might feel like you have the flu before or during you period and what symptoms warrant a visit to a doctor.
The wild ride caused by hormones can vary greatly from one person to another. Some people experience period flu symptoms in the days just before their period that are part of what’s called premenstrual syndrome (PMS). Others feel lousy throughout their period.
The symptoms are pretty varied, too, and can include:
Experts aren’t totally sure about what causes this phenomenon, but hormone fluctuations throughout your menstrual cycle are the most likely culprit.
Before your period, prostaglandins, which are hormone-like fatty acids, are produced to help your uterus shed its lining.
Excess prostaglandins make their way into your bloodstream, which can cause a whole bunch of period symptoms, like cramps, period poop, and farts — don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.
Cyclic changes in your sex hormones, mainly estrogen, can also cause you to feel run down, along with causing your more run-of-the-mill period symptoms, like cramps, breast tenderness, and mood swings.
Chemical changes in your brain, such as fluctuations in serotonin and other chemicals related to mood states, may also trigger some PMS symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. These include fatigue, sleep problems, food cravings, and depression.
Feeling queasy and fatigued as you wait for your period to turn up could set off alarm bells and have you running to the drugstore for a pregnancy test.
But unless your period is late, there’s no link between common period flu symptoms and pregnancy.
Period flu symptoms can make it hard to function, but there are several things you can do for relief. Certain lifestyle changes and therapies can also help you prevent or at least minimize future symptoms.
To get relief now
Here are some things you can do to ease your symptoms:
- Take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication. OTC anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (Advil), can ease muscle aches, cramps, headaches, and breast pain. Taking an anti-inflammatory before your period starts may lessen pain and bleeding.
- Use a heating pad. A heating pad can help relieve cramps and muscle aches. Place a heating pad over your lower abdomen for 15 minutes at a time as needed throughout the day.
- Take an antidiarrheal drug. OTC medications for diarrhea, including loperamide (Imodium) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol), can stop diarrhea. Pepto-Bismol can also help with other tummy issues, such as nausea and upset stomach.
- Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is always important, but even more so if PMS is making you want to eat all the food, including salty snacks. Staying hydrated can help keep headaches at bay and prevent compulsive eating before your period.
To prevent future bouts
Here are some things you can start doing to improve your periods and prevent, or at least reduce, those icky period flu symptoms during your next cycle:
- Exercise regularly. Exercise has been shown to improve a lot of the discomfort associated with periods, including cramps, depression, and lack of energy.
- Eat healthy foods. Eating healthy is always a good idea, but making healthier choices in the two weeks leading up to your period can reduce PMS symptoms. Cut back on your alcohol, sugar, salt, and caffeine intake.
- Quit smoking.
Researchshows that smoking worsens PMS symptoms. A 2018 study also linked smoking to irregular periods and early menopause. If you currently smoke, talk to a healthcare provider about a smoking cessation program to help you quit.
- Get enough sleep. Aim to get at least seven hours of sleep every night. Sleep deprivation has been linked to depression, anxiety, and mood swings. Not getting enough sleep can also cause food cravings and compulsive eating, and trigger headaches.
- Get more calcium. Calcium may help to reduce the severity of PMS symptoms. You can take a calcium supplement or add more calcium-rich foods to your diet.
- Take vitamin B-6. Vitamin B-6 can help ease some period-related symptoms, including moodiness, bloating, and irritability. You can take a B-6 supplement or get B-6 through foods such as poultry, fish, fruit, and potatoes.
Some discomfort during your period is normal, but symptoms that interfere with your daily activities should be discussed with your healthcare provider. They could be a sign of an underlying condition that needs treatment.
Period symptoms you shouldn’t ignore include:
While it’s not recognized as an official diagnosis, the period flu appears to be very real for some people. It isn’t totally clear what causes it, but hormonal fluctuations likely play a big role.
While lifestyle changes and home treatment can usually help, talk to your healthcare provider if your symptoms are getting in the way of your daily life.