Menstruation and IBS

Does your period make your IBS worse? It does for most women.

Picture of the uterus and the menstrual cycle which may cause IBS symptoms.

Moving through the month, your body changes, and for some people mensturation means more IBS symptoms.
© Can Stock Photo

If you’re here, it’s probably because you want to know if there is a connection between your period and IBS flare ups.

Menstruation is an IBS trigger.  No ifs, ands or buts. But it also makes IBS symptoms worse than during other times of the month.

Read on for the unhappy details.

Women and IBS

I’ve been looking into why women have IBS at twice the rate of men.  I haven’t found anything conclusive about why that is, but I’ve stumbled onto a bunch of studies, showing that menstruation and IBS are connected, AND that menstruation makes IBS worse!

First, let’s list the culprits.

IBS and the menstrual cycle…

Okay, full disclosure. I’m not a woman. I don’t get a period, but I love the women in my life and here’s what they tell me the symptoms are.

Some of those sound like the symptoms of IBS.  In fact many women report having IBS symptoms only during their period.

It’s also true that the nerves in the uterus and the nerves in your bowels, are connected.

I think all these changes, along with hormones and nerve stimulation, is enough to set IBS in motion.

Also, the extra pain signals may aggravate the nerves connected to both the bowels and the uterus, causing EXTRA pain.

Fortunately (or not), for those suffering, there is some proof to back that idea up.

Studies show a connection between menstruation and IBS attacks.

 

Woman green dress with belly cramps and IBS symptoms

It seems most women are in ENOUGH pain during their menstrual cycle. IBS symptoms are just one more pain you can do without.
© Can Stock Photo

Strange studies with balloons up backsides, show that women with IBS have increased bowel or rectal sensitivity during their periods. Sorry, I’m NOT making this up:

Researchers were testing women with IBS during their menstrual periods.

What researchers did was put SMALL balloons in the each test subject’s rectum. Then the balloons were inflated to put some pressure (like full bowels)  inside the rectum. Women with IBS experienced pain, where women that don’t have IBS had no pain.

But the women with IBS reported greater pain during their periods than between their periods.

To me, that means a woman is more likely to have an IBS flare up if she’s already half way there. It also means it may be more severe than at other times of the month.

Sure it’s proven, but little help yet.

Some women who use birth control pills report a lessening of their IBS symptoms.  Other than that, I would guess it’s a matter of planning ahead.

If you know that you have more problems with IBS during menstruation, then you could try not to schedule long trips away from toilets and such, during those times.

Other than that, there are just the suggestions I make around the site that could help you with your IBS.

As always, check with your doctor (or gynecologist) for help.  She or he may have some other knowledge or tips to help you. If so I hope you’ll let us know here in the comments section.

Can YOU help?

Please share any tips you have about IBS and menstruation and things that help.  Let people know in the comments section!

Find out more about preventing IBS bloating.

Find out more about Abdominal pain and cramping.

12 Comments

  1. Reply

    I never had bowel problems before my periods started (at 10). Thereafter followed decades of blown-up stomach, constant gas, diarrhoea etc. I tried eating all sorts of different diets which did not help. Had blood and other tests 2 weeks ago (to rule out thyroid, coeliac and other problems) which all came back perfectly normal. This makes me think, having noticed the IBS/ PMS pattern, that I can probably do more about this than a doctor can.
    I can’t eat ANYTHING just before and during my period. The period just before my current one, I couldn’t eat anything for a week and was practically crawling up the walls because everything I ate was going straight through me. Only a few weeks ago I collapsed (sweating/ chills) because of all the stomach drama, hence the request for a blood test.
    What does seem to make it worse is eating anything “healthy” (fruit, vegetables and wholegrains which make me crap and fart like fury) – I can only eat super small “meals” (i.e. 5 miniature squares of uber soft chocolate brownie, or a couple of Extra Strong mints, at a time). It’s like the Dolly Parton diet, where she famously only took 1 bite of everything she liked.
    I get to the point where I wonder what is the point of eating anything at all. Even a fibre free diet consisting of eggs, cheese, meat etc. gives me intense pain. Red wine and Stilton cheese, as well as a diet of gin and tonic, seem to work quite well, as painkillers definetely don’t. Oh yes, and the pain – don’t get me on to that one. I’ve thrown up because of the pain, and so, doubtless, have countless other women.
    My Dad calls periods “mad cow disease”, but he is over 70, and stiff-upper-lipped old school, I pray he will be reborn as a woman with super bad PMS!!

  2. Reply

    Shedding more light on this my “Gut feeling”…
    I have had the normal upset stomach like every human which is relatable, understandable when I was younger. However, when I began my first ever menstrual cycle that’s when the pain started. It wasn’t normal abdominal cramps and would occur with the symptoms that are claimed to normally have during IBS.

    While elaborating, I may sound irritable myself just bringing up the concept, but here are the symptoms and basic lifestyle…

    I only take Ibprofen and Pepto if in absolute pain which probably “Doesn’t help my digestive”, but stop the pain dead in its tracks finally. That is the only medication I ever take and if I only take Ibprofen or Pepto, it could be hours before the pain finally stops and if excruciating, I have to step in a bath, either the heat or the water soothes it right away, a form of therapy if you will..

    Anyway, before my first cycle, I could eat practically anything. Aftermath, since my first cycle I cannot eat heavy meat such as beef, or too much acid, butter, garlic and oil at once. I have heard “Take a probiotic, change diet, keep a journal of symptoms”.
    First, I am hesitant in taking a probiotic unless diagnosed. Second, I cannot eat fruit/vegetables which actually worsen the symptoms.

    Also, I can recall what eat because I eat to live, not live to eat and pay attention to what I eat, I know and don’t need to list them. Also, I exercise 2-4 times a week am pretty active, eat home cooked meals and eat out fast food once a month while everyone I know and grow up around don’t take care of themselves, don’t feel the need to and just shove it in. Starting to sound a little irritable no?… It’s no question it does run in the family as well.

    A little more about my history, my family’s digestive…
    Both sides of my family have digestive issues: My mother’s side has Crohns, my cousins have had digestive issues due to PMS and off the PMS record for only a moment having to do with family history:My father’s side has Colitis that he refers to as “Attacks”.

    Anyway, back to my personal, not family history, a track record if you will… As far at the symptoms themselves, even before my IBS symptoms occur, I know my body pretty well enough for when my menstrual cycle will start 1-2 weeks before. I can even tell right before I bloat even if the scale doesn’t pick it up or my pants still fit me the same.

    Now, before being more intuitive about when my cycle would start, I would lose 4-5 pounds because I was in so much pain and I could not eat anything, drains me and feel like the flu. I haven’t been properly diagnosed yet or have gone to the gyno and because of that I refer to them as “Attacks” myself-what else can I call them I haven’t been diagnosed yet?… I have even gotten sick over ginger-ale and stayed up all night-probably because it was cold and on an empty stomach, but now because of this I drink warm ginger ale which is not normal. Is this normal for anyone else?…

    Dealing with the symptoms and ruling out what is the cause..
    After a while, when I had become more intuitive about my physiological symptoms involving IBS pre-PMS cycle coming was in a time frame between 1 minimum-2 weeks maximum (pre) pre menstrual, I will usually get those symptoms afterwards. There are occasions where I can suddenly get the IBS symptoms and I know stress doesn’t help, but my cycle always seems to be the trigger, not too far behind and is the main culprit.

    A gut-feeling and my hunch, hypothesis pre-diagnosis…
    In conclusion, I can’t help but notice that my cycle seems to always trigger IBS. I have struggled and have been up all night more than once and collapse afterward from exhaustion once the pain starts to subside. Now, I am pretty sure it has to do with either/or:
    1) A protein imbalance, enzymes because I can’t digest heavy meats too often-especially within the time frame of my cycle (which I believe has to do with the pancreas), but I doubt is that because I have never vomited or vomitted blood or PMS. So, it is back to the 2) the large, not small intestine (which relates to colitis) and the lady parts having to do with IBS-PMS.

    Say what? IDK?…
    Of course, I’m no doctor but as far as health related issues find so far it is cognitive/”mental” & physical symptoms causes correlating=definitely physiological symptoms triggered altogether and that the correlation between IBS and PMS stand to reason, one always relates to the other.

    So WTFP? Where’s the final Part? What’s the f-in point?…
    Basically, I have brought this up not to moan but to see if there is anyone else out there with this problem? Just a gut feeling and I’d love to hear more perspective in this issue not really discussed out loud as often and I’m thinking there’s definitely a correlation between one and the other and maybe there’s a way to nip this in the bud. Thanks for your patience reading this. I made it this long so that there was no misunderstanding.Thanks for listening and for reading my long essay lol.

    So who else has this (pre) PMS cycle involving IBS-PMS? Raise your hand or in this more case usually discussed under discretion, please let me know by typing the comments below?…

    • Reply

      Just read your essay lol….ive never suffered too badly with periods or pain except one loose stool day before bleed…. just got on with it…however….just started my periods after having baby no 2 (period free for 22 months) and only now approaching period no 3 but have suffered each time with IBS symptoms both immediately after ovulation and either 1/2 days before bleed or day 1 of bleed. On each suffering i have been stuck in the bathroom and feeling very nauseous….both occasions i have put it down to nerves and possible food intolerance but here i am at no 3 ovulation and have been stuck in the bathroom again…
      Now i too havent sought medical assistance or advice..to me its logical….hormonal changes are guiding other changes in my body but completely debilitating….i am totally scared to leave the house on these mornings…feel like i have to be up earlier to organise relief so i avoid stress of being late anywhere…
      Total nightmare but im going to speak to a therapist of natural appraches and see what can be done holistically as i dont see this as a medical issue its a hormonal one….imo!!!

      If i discover any gems of wisdom i will update you all!!

  3. Reply

    When my monthly cycle comes on, it teams up with my IBS and it is debilitating, to say the least. I increase my fluid and soft food intake (water, herbal tea, various healthy smoothies, easily digested fruits and veggies) and decrease my solid food intake from a few days before my period starts to after it passes.

    If I do not do this, I am miserably ill for at least two weeks – the week or so of my period and the week or so after my period as my digestive system tries to recover

    The dietary changes/restrictions are not much fun, but itms better than the alternative.

    • Reply

      Hi Sharron,

      What kinds of food in particular do you eat before until after your period? I’m currently experiencing this right now post period eating regular diet and it’s not fun :/ Glad to have found your post!

      • Reply

        I sure have learned to avoid milk and milk containing products and gluten. Right now I am having one of thee worst flair ups and noticed I am also spotting.. So obviously period is coming. Sweating profusely also and curled up in a ball. The sounds coming from my stomach are so loud! I hate this, it’s been happening since I was about 12 I am now 33. I haven’t found anything that helps. I just cry in pain. I also have fibromyalgia and that is linked to IBS also…. Idk how to eleviate the pain…

  4. Reply

    My IBS has worsened due to stress last year, so I’m a little more sensitive. In the past two months I’ve been sent home from work twice on the first day of my period because it’s triggered off agonising IBS attacks.
    Feeling pretty depressed right now- being sent home is embarrassing and I hate that this is taking over my life!

    • Reply

      I have had the same situation and have been sent home from work or was to ill to even get to work! I hate that IBS and my monthlies are now controlling my life, I have been back & fore to the doctor over the past few months and despite several tests are no further forward. It is depressing me now

      • Reply

        Hi I know the feeling my ibs and monthly is controlling my life it’s been so bad I’ve been up and down to a+e because the pain is so unbearable after countless of blood tests and urine test coming back clear I’ve narrowed it down to ibs oh the pain x

  5. Reply

    Hi Shawn, thank you for creating this website .If only my previous doctor read it, he would’ve been a better doctor. I have been suffering fm IBS for over 10 years and it gets worse around my menstrual cycle. I am currently taking Debridat tablets to manage the pain and it helps. Of course coupled with heatIng pad it’s even better. Funny thing is, because of IBS, I look forward to have my menses as the pain will disappear on the second day. I hope for a cure some day.

  6. Reply

    Glad I found this site. Yes, it’s worse during my menstrual cycle. What helps (somewhat) is keeping my heating pad on. I recently went out of town and didn’t have my heat pad and did I suffer!!! I ended up putting hot water in a water bottle and rubbing it against my abdomen. I could feel my intestines cramping and it was one of the worse IBS flare ups I’ve ever had. Thanks for the info and I will be saving this page.

    • Reply

      I’m so glad it helped. I hope you continue to find ways to get relief. Nice blog by the way.

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