Written by Yoppie
01 May 2020
What are the symptoms? 🔬
What causes period flu? 🤔
What can we do about it? 👀
Ever heard the term ‘period flu’? It's not something that is described frequently in medical textbooks, but it does describe that sick-y feeling some of us get during our periods. You’re not going crazy, and it’s not only you that feels this way. Period flu is a real phenomenon where, leading up to our periods and during, we can feel similar symptoms to that of the flu.
Don’t worry, it’s not contagious like regular flu, and it’s not dangerous. But, that doesn’t mean you can’t ask your doctor for advice on combating the symptoms if they occur every month.
Just as menstruation symptoms can hit people differently, so can period flu symptoms, and this is because we all experience varying levels of hormones. Some people find themselves suffering from period flu symptoms in the days before they get their period, as part of premenstrual syndrome, or PMS.
Others will experience the worst symptoms during their period. These can range from fatigue, muscle aches and fever or chills (much like the real flu), to nausea, headaches or dizziness. Some even feel stomach-bug-like symptoms such as diarrhoea or constipation. The symptoms vary, but the general consensus is the same: we feel lousy!
Approximately 30-40% of women with asthma seem to experience worsening of their symptoms, such as breathlessness and coughing, generally 2 to 3 days before the onset of bleeding. If cyclical symptoms are troublesome it might be useful to chat to your doctor, as treatments like the hormonal contraceptive pill may help.
Scientists don’t definitively know what causes this strange flu-like feeling, but we do know that hormones are at least partially to blame. Hormones such as progesterone fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, and, along with other chemicals such as prostaglandins, are known to effect the immune system and the inflammatory response.
On top of this, changes in oestrogen can cause us to feel fatigued and run down. Those two hormone alterations together are already quite the combo, but if you add fluctuations in serotonin and other mood-related chemicals and you can experience pretty serious PMS symptoms.
Hello, period flu!
Much like PMS, all we can do is be kind to ourselves, indulge in self-care, and use medicines that may help to ease symptoms. Over the counter pain medication and anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen can ease some of the cramps and pain you are experiencing, and staying well hydrated is important if you experience those, erm… period poos we all know so well. Don’t act like you don’t know!
Staying hydrated is also important, and can help prevent headaches if you suffer from these. And of course, an old favourite; the trusty hot water bottle for cramps and bloating.
To prevent period flu symptoms during your next cycle, you may want to implement a regular exercise routine to preemptively ease cramps and boost your energy, as well as some healthy, nutrient-rich foods to support your system from the inside.
If your period flu symptoms are particularly bad or continue to worsen throughout your period, don’t be afraid to discuss this with your doctor. A little discomfort during your period is normal, but when this begins to interfere with your everyday life, you may wish to chat with a healthcare professional who can check if there is anything else contributing to your pain and discomfort. Never ignore symptoms like excessive or heavy periods, missed or irregular periods, extreme pain, unexplained weight loss, or pain during sex.
A very small number of women get an even more intense form of PMS known as premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), which can make it difficult to work, socialise and have healthy relationships. In some cases, it can also lead to suicidal thoughts. There are medical, psychological and complementary treatments available to help, so don't suffer in silence.
Do you suffer from ‘period flu’? Tell us about your symptoms over on Instagram @itsyoppie. And if you have any questions about this weird but very real phenomenon, we’re always happy to answer them!
Feeling down in the dumps with the flu is horrible, but don't forget that our personalised period subscription box can get organic cotton tampons, pads, liners, and much more, delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox. That's one less thing to worry about.
Vrieze et al., Perimenstrual asthma: A syndrome without known cause or cure. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 2003. Vol: 112, Issue: 2, Page: 271-282
Oertelt-Prigione S. Immunology and the menstrual cycle. Autoimmun Rev. 2012;11(6-7):A486-A492. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2011.11.023
Critchley HO, Kelly RW, Brenner RM, Baird DT. The endocrinology of menstruation--a role for the immune system. Clinical Endocrinology. 2001 Dec;55(6):701-710. DOI: 10.1046/j.1365-2265.2001.01432.x.
Fact checked by Doctor Samantha Miller.
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