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PMS Heartburn & Indigestion: Is Your Brain To Blame?

PMS Heartburn & Indigestion: Is Your Brain To Blame?

Written by Yoppie

28 Jan 2022

How common is indigestion during PMS?

What about PMS heartburn? Is that normal?

What if I have heartburn but my period never comes?

But how is it connected to the brain?!

What can I do about it? 

Wait, what?! Yes, you read the headline right. Firstly, if you suffer from heartburn or indigestion issues during PMS you can breathe a sigh of relief - it’s not all in your head (well, for the most part). PMS is known for causing gastrointestinal issues, but the reason behind this may surprise you (spoiler: it’s the brain). Here’s everything you need to know about these unusual PMS symptoms, why they happen and what to do about it… 

How common is indigestion during PMS?

You’ve probably heard of the period poops (we wrote a whole article on them here), but what if your issues start further up the digestive tract? Gastrointestinal issues are common PMS symptoms both before and during your period, and can include anything from general indigestion to bloating to reflux. They mimic symptoms found in those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), like abdominal bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation, gas and more. If you suffer from IBS, your period may exacerbate your usual symptoms. 

One study found 73% of respondents said they experienced at least one of the main gastrointestinal symptoms around menstruation, with abdominal pain being the most common. If indigestion is your thing, this is likely caused in the same way; rising estrogen can affect receptors in your stomach and small intestine, causing all sorts of symptoms. 

What about PMS heartburn? Is that normal?

PMS-related heartburn is no different to regular heartburn, and it tends to feel like a burning sensation in your chest - near your breastbone - after you eat. This can intensify if you jump or bend over, for example during exercise. It happens due to the same hormone fluctuations, which can cause the muscles in the oesophagus to relax, leading to food, liquid and stomach acids making their way back into the oesophagus and causing an irritating acidic sensation - hello heartburn! It’s relatively common (and totally normal) although it can be uncomfortable. 

What if I have heartburn but my period never comes?

It’s also worth noting that heartburn can be an early sign of pregnancy, so if you notice digestive issues that differ from your usual symptoms, and you think you might be pregnant, it’s best to take a test or speak to your doctor to either confirm or rule this out. 

But how is it connected to the brain?!

This is where it gets really interesting! In the same study mentioned earlier, those who experienced emotional issues before or during their period (such as depression and anxiety) were more likely to report multiple (that’s two or more) gastrointestinal issues as part of their PMS symptoms. Those who suffered from fatigue before and during PMS found they were also more susceptible to gastrointestinal issues. 

In recent years, science has become fascinated with emerging data around the gut-brain connection, thanks to a cool nerve called the vagus nerve (yes, like viva las vagus). This nerve is the longest of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves that come from the brain, and the most complex, transmitting information to and from the brain to elsewhere in the body. There’s still so much we don’t know about this incredible connection, but what we do know - put very simply - is this: what you eat affects your brain, and your brain affects your stomach and abdominal area. Amazing, but no doubt frustrating if you suffer from these issues.

What can I do about it? 

Although gastrointestinal issues with PMS symptoms can be irritating and uncomfortable or even painful, there are some treatment options that can help. Here’s what to try: 

  • PMS-related heartburn can be treated in the same way as regular heartburn, with an over-the-counter medicine to neutralise stomach acid and reduce discomfort. If you think you need something stronger, or your body gets used to this medicine, you may wish to speak to your doctor and find a treatment that will work for you long term. 
  • Be mindful of what you eat before your period. Foods that can trigger heartburn or indigestion differ from person to person, so spend time figuring out what may cause your upset stomach and cut this out in the week before your period is due. Removing anything acidic or spicy is a good place to start, but if bloating is your main problem try removing some of the cruciferous veggies and fizzy drinks from your diet. 
  • Sit properly when eating a meal (no slouching) and if needed, elevate your head and chest while sleeping to manage reflux. This can be achieved by placing a pillow or another object underneath the head end of your mattress to create a slight incline. 
  • Birth control may also help to relieve some gastrointestinal issues, with one study finding the combined pill improved bloating. 
  • Exercise regularly to ease the discomfort of gastrointestinal issues. It can seem counterintuitive when all you want to do is be horizontal, but moving around can help to relieve trapped wind and get your stomach working as it’s supposed to. 
  • Mindfulness isn’t for everyone, but if you’re into the gut-brain connection like we are, then this one may be up your street; one study found mindfulness meditations helped relieve symptoms of depression in those with gastroesophageal reflux disease, so there could be benefits in incorporating mindfulness practice into your routine.

Do you suffer from issues with indigestion and heartburn during your cycle? Chat with others over on our Full Stop FB group, and reach out to us on Instagram at @itsyoppie to ask any questions you may have. Don't forget that our personalised period box can get organic tampons, supplements for bloating and much more delivered easily and regularly through your letterbox as often as your cycle needs it, to stop those PMS symptoms from completely ruining life.

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