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Women can have around 450 periods in a lifetime. Each of these monthly cycles is accompanied by some common discomforts like stomach gas, bloating and flatulence.

Much of this can be attributed to hormonal changes. Here’s what happens:

  • The levels of estrogen rise in the body during the first phase of the menstrual cycle: estrogen helps to release and prepare the egg for fertilization. In the second phase, progesterone levels rise and help to prepare the uterus lining for implantation (when a fertilized egg attaches to the womb). If and when an egg (ovum) is not fertilized and implanted in the uterus, menstruation occurs. And the levels of progesterone and estrogen in the body drop drastically.
    Research has shown that sex hormones affect the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. During periods, the changing sex hormone levels cause the body to retain water and salt, which results in bloating.
  • The uterus also produces prostaglandins which are responsible for the contractions which help to shed the thick uterus lining and blood during periods.
    Research has shown that prostaglandins may protect the stomach and gut, but they can cause watery diarrhoea as a side-effect, too.

The hormonal changes in the body just before and during menstruation cause the body to hold onto water and salt and slow down peristalsis (the contraction-like movements of the intestine to move food along). This is what leads to the feeling of a distended stomach, gassiness, bloating and other gastrointestinal (GI) issues just before and during periods.

While uncomfortable, bloating during periods is nothing to worry about. Read on to know all about bloating during periods.

  1. Symptoms of bloating during periods
  2. Causes of period bloating
  3. Tips for bloating during periods
  4. Doctors for Period bloating

Bloating and stomach upset are common signs that you may be getting your period soon. The symptoms of bloating include:

  • Feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • Feeling of tightness in the belly

Many women report gassiness and increased flatulence during this period. Some women may also feel like their bowels are full. This can also add to the feeling of being bloated.

A small study with 156 healthy women aged 18-55 found that 73% of them faced GI issues just before their period and 69% had at least one GI problem during menstruation. The percentage of women who experienced bloating in this study was 62% pre-menstrual and 51% in their period.

Read more: Period pain: symptoms, causes, treatment, home remedies

Water and salt retention in the body and changes in bowel movement can cause bloating a few days before you get your period. The bloating can last for a few days into the period for many women.

The causes of water and salt imbalance and changes in bowel movement during periods include:

  • Hormonal changes: Changes in the level of estrogen and progesterone affect the delicate fluid and electrolyte balance in the body. This can lead to water retention.
  • Slower bowels: During periods, the stomach and gut can slow down in some women. This can create a feeling of heaviness and even constipation in some women.
  • More contractions: Food moves through our gut because of tiny contractions in the muscles of the intestines (peristaltic movement). During menstruation, the uterus produces prostaglandins—a type of fatty acids that cause contractions to push the menstrual blood out of the body during periods. Prostaglandins can also increase the contractions in the intestines—this is the reason why some women can experience diarrhoea during periods.

Bloating can be very uncomfortable. However, there are some easy ways to improve the situation. Here are some things you can try:

  • Eat healthily: Low salt and lots of fibre in your diet will help improve bowel movement and to reduce water retention. Also, remember to drink lots of water.
  • Eat more magnesium-rich foods: Magnesium is a macromineral: adult females who are not pregnant or lactating need 310-320 mg of magnesium a day. Getting adequate magnesium helps to relax the muscles and reduce the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). You can also get magnesium from foods such as almondspeanutscashews, shredded wheat and soy milk.
  • Eat potassium-rich foods: Potassium can increase urination and balances the amount of sodium in the blood. This can help reduce bloating as a result of water and salt retention. Potassium-rich foods include spinach, bananas and avocado.
  • Light exercises: Light exercises can help to reduce stress and relieve PMS symptoms such as cramps. You can take your pick of exercise routines like yogaswimming during periods and breathing exercises.
  • Probiotic and prebiotic supplements: A healthy gut can withstand the changes in hormone levels much better than a GI tract without lots of good bacteria. Taking probiotics or prebiotic foods that encourage the growth of good bacteria in the gut can help reduce symptoms such as bloating.
  • Medicines: You could try diuretics to reduce water retention in the body. Antispasmodic drugs can also ease some symptoms of PMS. For constipation, women can also use over-the-counter laxatives and stool softeners.
  • Home remedies: You can also try some home remedies like drinking warm water with one-fourth teaspoon of caraway seeds (shahi jeera) to reduce GI symptoms like bloating.

Read more: Period diet: what to eat what not to eat during periods

Dr. Kavita Singh

Dr. Kavita Singh

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Nidhi Bothaju

Dr. Nidhi Bothaju

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
3 Years of Experience

Dr K Supriya

Dr K Supriya

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
4 Years of Experience

Dr. Safeena Akhtar

Dr. Safeena Akhtar

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
4 Years of Experience

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References

  1. Thiyagarajan D.K., Basit H., Jeanmonod R. Physiology, Menstrual Cycle. [Updated 24 April 2019]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; January 2020.
  2. Curtis K.S. Estrogen and the central control of body fluid balance. Physiology & Behavior, 2009; 97(2):180‐192. PMID: 19268483
  3. Demol P. Effect of Prostaglandins on the Motility of the Digestive Tract. In: Domschke W., Dammann H.G., Peskar B.M., Holtermüller K.H. (eds) Prostaglandins and Leukotrienes in Gastrointestinal Diseases, 1988; Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg. Prostaglandins and Leukotrienes in Gastrointestinal Diseases: 90-104
  4. Bernstein M.T., Graff L.A., Avery L., Palatnick C., Parnerowski K. and Targownik L.E. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Womens Health, 22 January 2014; 14:14. PMID: 24450290.
  5. Liu C.Y., Chen L.B., Liu P.Y., Xie D.P. and Wang P.S. Effects of progesterone on gastric emptying and intestinal transit in male rats. World Journal of Gastroenterology. April 2002; 8(2): 338-41. PMID: 11925620.
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