Many people notice menstrual cycle changes in the months leading up to a UC diagnosis, as well as shortly after. This could be related to stress over UC symptoms, which can intensify during menstrual periods. Some UC medications can also cause irregular menstruation.

UC is an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation of the lining of the large intestine.

Most people with UC and other types of IBD are diagnosed between the ages of 15 and 35 — often the peak reproductive years.

While the condition is known for affecting the colon, it can also impact the reproductive system, including your overall menstrual cycle and menstruation.

People with UC sometimes experience changes to their menstrual cycle or irregular periods months before receiving an IBD diagnosis.

In a 2014 study involving 121 people with IBD, 25% experienced a change in the timing of their menstrual cycle in the year leading up to their diagnosis. Roughly 20% noticed changes in the length of their menstrual flow.

However, the study also found that the participants’ menstrual cycles did become more regular and predictable in future years, perhaps due to treatment and management of IBD.

The researchers believe that early stressors of UC and IBD may have been responsible for the irregular periods of people newly diagnosed with the condition, but more research is needed.

Despite the irregular menstruation that can occur before an IBD diagnosis, research indicates that people with UC don’t have a greater chance of infertility, according to a 2013 systematic review of 11 studies.

Some medications used to manage UC can increase the risk of irregular menstruation. Corticosteroids, particularly, were linked with irregular periods in the 2014 study mentioned above.

Medications in this category include:

  • budesonide
  • prednisolone
  • methylprednisolone
  • prednisone

Other UC treatments, including thiopurine and anti-TNF agents, weren’t connected to irregular menstruation in that study.

In addition to potentially changing the duration and timing of menstrual cycles, some IBD medications may also make symptoms of menstruation worse during your period, as well as in the days leading up to it.

A 2020 study from Israel, which evaluated females between 18 and 50 years old who had UC or another type of IBD, found that participants who took biologics reported significantly higher levels of certain symptoms before menstruating.

This included:

  • irritability
  • nervousness
  • pelvic pain
  • fatigue

During menstruation, participants who took biologics for IBD were also more likely to report fatigue and pain in their pelvis, lower back, and abdomen. Many of these symptoms were worse among people who smoked.

If you notice unwanted changes in menstruation or other unusual side effects after taking UC medications, you may want to share your concerns with your prescribing physician.

They may be able to recommend an alternative or offer other strategies that may help.

The same hormone-like compounds (prostaglandins) that cause uterine contractions and other painful period symptoms can also cause contractions in your colon. That, in turn, can make some UC symptoms more intense around your period.

Research from 2018, which involved more than 1,200 females with UC or Crohn’s disease (CD), showed that half of the participants had worse IBD symptoms while menstruating.

A 2013 study involving 47 people with IBD and 44 people in a control group found that those with IBD passed significantly more stools (including loose stools) and experienced more abdominal pain throughout their menstrual cycle than those without the condition.

That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll experience a UC flare every time you get your period, but knowing about the potential for increased gastrointestinal symptoms can help you plan.

IBD, including UC, can increase the risk of iron deficiency and anemia. According to research from 2018, as many as 45% of people with IBD have anemia.

UC can put you at risk for iron deficiency and anemia for several reasons.

  • The long-term irritation and swelling in your intestines can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb iron and other nutrients.
  • You might not tolerate foods that are high in iron.
  • You might have a lower appetite.
  • Intestinal bleeding from ulcers can cause blood loss.

The risk of anemia is even higher if you experience heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia). Losing a lot of blood during your period can use up more red blood cells than your body can produce, thus reducing your iron stores.

It’s important to seek medical care if you notice any of the following:

  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • headaches
  • irregular heart rate (arrhythmia)
  • overall weakness (malaise)
  • paler than usual skin (pallor)
  • persistently cold hands or feet
  • shortness of breath

While mild anemia is usually easily treated, more severe cases can lead to serious health consequences and can sometimes be life threatening.

A healthcare professional can check your iron levels, order additional tests, and make recommendations for treatment if necessary.

If UC or your medications seem to be affecting your menstrual cycle, contact a healthcare professional. They can help you get to the bottom of what’s going on and recommend ways to make your period more regular.

It’s important to seek medical attention if you’re experiencing severe or unusual symptoms, especially related to your menstrual cycle.

Here are some examples of when it’s important to contact a healthcare professional.

  • Your menstrual period is significantly heavier than usual or contains large clots.
  • Menstrual bleeding lasts for more than 7 consecutive days.
  • You experience vaginal bleeding, presumably related to menstruation, more than once a month.
  • More than 2 months have passed since your last period.
  • You have symptoms of iron deficiency or anemia.

Your menstrual cycle can be an important indicator of overall health, and your symptoms could be related to your current treatment plan or a sign of another underlying condition.

Research has found connections between menstrual changes and UC. The disease and medication used to treat it have been linked with irregular periods, increased symptoms, and a higher risk of iron deficiency and anemia.

Most of these changes occur in the months leading up to a UC diagnosis and early in the course of the disease. Irregular menstrual cycles tend to become more predictable over time.

You do not have to live with painful, irregular periods, though. A healthcare professional can help you figure out what’s affecting your menstrual cycle and offer potential solutions, such as a new medication or lifestyle change, to help ease symptoms.

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