Why Symptoms of IBS May Be Worse During Your Period

If you have a menstrual period, you may have noticed that your IBS symptoms change depending on the time of the month. You are not imagining things—your menstrual cycle and the severity of your IBS symptoms are definitely linked.

Like many things having to do with IBS, the connection between IBS and the process of menstruation is not clear-cut. Many people find that their IBS seems to get worse just before they get their period. For others, their IBS symptoms are worse when they have their period.

One thing that is for certain is that a person's menstrual cycle and the functioning of their digestive system are definitely connected. Let's take a look at why this is and how it affects how you feel.

Woman rubbing abdomen
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Hormones and Your Digestive System

First, a quick biology lesson. There are two main hormones associated with menstruation—estrogen and progesterone. These hormones do not just affect the sex organs.

In fact, there are receptor cells for these hormones throughout your gastrointestinal tract. This is why many people—even those without IBS—experience digestive symptoms related to their menstrual cycle.

Symptoms Through the Menstrual Cycle

Whether or not you have IBS, researchers have found that the different phases of the menstrual cycle put people at risk for unwanted digestive symptoms. In the days of the month immediately following ovulation, all people are more likely to experience bloating and constipation.

Things change as you get closer to and start menstruation. In the days just prior to menstruation (pre-menstrual) and for the first day or two when bleeding starts, people are more likely to experience abdominal pain, diarrhea, and nausea.

IBS and Your Period

For many people with IBS, their across-the-board IBS symptoms worsen when they have their periods. For some, their systems are more reactive to food in the days surrounding menstruation, particularly gassy foods.

In addition to worsening of IBS symptoms, having IBS also appears to put people at a higher risk of experiencing the following symptoms associated with menstruation:

  • Dysmenorrhea (painful cramping)
  • Backache
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Water retention

Why are people who have IBS at higher risk for menstrual-related digestive and other unpleasant symptoms? Currently, there are no good answers to that question. In spite of the fact that the sex hormones appear to play a role in GI symptoms, they don't seem to be different in people with and without IBS.

Birth control pills and hormone replacement therapy have not been found to be of any help in alleviating the IBS symptoms. However, nor do they do any harm in terms of worsening one's IBS.

How to Manage Your Symptoms

Start by keeping a symptom diary. This doesn't have to be anything complex—just keep a running record of your symptoms as it relates to where you are at in your menstrual cycle. This will allow you to look for patterns and to identify when your symptoms are likely to be at their worst.

Having some sense of what to expect on each day of your cycle can help you to plan. Perhaps you tweak your diet so that you avoid gassy foods and choose non-gassy foods on your worst days. You can also try to adjust your schedule so that you postpone events that might be more stressful to days when your symptoms are more likely to be quiet.

Invest in a heating pad or hot water bottle. Continuous heat can be quite soothing, both in easing menstrual cramps and soothing IBS pain.

Take a calcium supplement. This recommendation is of particular help to those who experience diarrhea as part of your IBS. Calcium supplementation has been shown to be effective in reducing menstruation-related symptoms and has some "word of mouth" buzz as being helpful for reducing diarrhea symptoms in people who have IBS. 

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Bernstein MT, Graff LA, Avery L, Palatnick C, Parnerowski K, Targownik LE. Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy womenBMC Womens Health. 2014;14:14. doi:10.1186/1472-6874-14-14

  3. Kim YS, Kim N. Sex-gender differences in irritable bowel syndromeJ Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2018;24(4):544–558. doi:10.5056/jnm18082

  4. Palsson OS, Whitehead WE. Hormones and IBS. UNC Center for Functional GI and Motility Disorders.

  5. Mulak A, Taché Y, Larauche M. Sex hormones in the modulation of irritable bowel syndromeWorld J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(10):2433–2448. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i10.2433

  6. Shobeiri F, Araste FE, Ebrahimi R, Jenabi E, Nazari M. Effect of calcium on premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind randomized clinical trialObstet Gynecol Sci. 2017;60(1):100–105. doi:10.5468/ogs.2017.60.1.100

Additional Reading

By Barbara Bolen, PhD
Barbara Bolen, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist and health coach. She has written multiple books focused on living with irritable bowel syndrome.