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Period poop—two words you probably never heard in health class. But changes in stool are common during your period. Whether you’ve experienced diarrhea, constipation, smelly poop, or any other changes to your bowel movements during your period, we’re going to dive deep into this important topic.
What is period poop?
People who get periods have probably noticed that their bowel movements (or period poops) may stray from their “normal” during a period or menstrual cycle. Some experience constipation or diarrhea, while others may experience pain. It may be a different consistency or smell than times outside your menstrual cycle. Many people may also note a change in their bowel movements just before their cycle starts, during their premenstrual time (Bernstein, 2014).
Why do I poop so much during my period?
The answer for almost every question related to how your period impacts your body is usually the same: hormones.
Your hormones, including estrogen, progesterone, and prostaglandins, fluctuate during and around your menstrual cycle. Prostaglandins are a necessary part of menstruation; they cause uterine muscle contractions that help you eliminate the excess endometrial tissue you don’t need because you are not pregnant. Unfortunately, they can also contribute to the painful cramps associated with menstrual cycles (Reed, 2018).
Prostaglandins can also affect your gastrointestinal (or GI) tract by causing your gut muscles to contract. These hormones may even affect your ability to move fluids from your GI contents, leading to the pain and diarrhea often associated with period poops. By the same process, fluctuations in prostaglandins may also lead to water retention and bloating (Bernstein, 2014).
The types of food you eat can also affect your bowel movements. For example, coffee has a laxative effect on many people. If you are lactose intolerant but crave ice cream around your menstrual cycles, you may end up with diarrhea. People with GI conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may notice that their cramping, bloating, and diarrhea get worse during their period (Bharadwaj, 2015).
Menstruation: what is a period, when does it start, and what’s normal?
Why does it hurt to poop on my period?
Not everyone sees a spike in their bathroom visits during their period. Some folks may find themselves not having bowel movements as regularly, leading to constipation, which can cause pain when straining to poop. This symptom is, once again, thanks to hormones—but not prostaglandins. Between ovulation and your period, there is a spike in the hormone progesterone (Reed, 2018). High levels of progesterone can cause food to move more slowly through your system, causing constipation (Judkins, 2020).
Watch your food habits around your period. Avoid heavy, fatty foods that can cause constipation. Try to incorporate more fiber and veggies into your diet—especially if your time-of-the-month tends to cause constipation.
Why does period poop sometimes smell bad?
Not only does progesterone affect the movement of food, but it can also affect your eating habits in the days leading up to your period. Progesterone has been linked to binge eating before and during your menstrual cycle (Racine, 2012). Changes in your eating habits can affect your stool odor, which may be why period poops can smell worse than regular bowel movements. If you’re typically someone who eats relatively healthy most of the time, a drastic change in your diet can lead to foul-smelling bowel movements.
When should you seek medical advice?
Most of the time, diarrhea, pain, constipation, cramping, etc., are regular occurrences during your period. As long as your stool is not completely liquid or isn’t associated with severe weakness, fevers, or vomiting, your period poops are normal. If you don’t have a tampon inserted during your bowel movement, you may notice blood in the toilet and when you wipe.
Otherwise, if you see blood in your stool, you should consult with your healthcare provider.
Period sex: tips, benefits, risks
Pain, cramping, and other symptoms along those lines are unfortunately normal parts of having a period. But if your pain is so severe that you can’t control it with over-the-counter pain medication like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, etc., it’s time to see your healthcare provider. This could be a sign of a more serious issue like endometriosis. Lastly, if your bowel movements don’t go back to normal after your menstrual cycle, seek medical advice.
- Bernstein, M.T., Graff, L.A., Avery, L. et al. (2014) Gastrointestinal symptoms before and during menses in healthy women. BMC Women’s Health,14, 14. doi: 10.1186/1472-6874-14-14. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24450290/
- Bharadwaj S, Barber MD, Graff LA, Shen B. (2015) Symptomatology of irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease during the menstrual cycle. Gastroenterology Report (Oxford), 3(3):185-93. doi: 10.1093/gastro/gov010. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25788484/
- Judkins TC, Dennis-Wall JC, Sims SM, Colee J, Langkamp-Henken B. (2020). Stool frequency and form and gastrointestinal symptoms differ by day of the menstrual cycle in healthy adult women taking oral contraceptives: a prospective observational study. BMC Womens Health, 20(1):136. doi: 10.1186/s12905-020-01000-x. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32600463/
- Racine SE, Culbert KM, Keel PK, Sisk CL, Burt SA, Klump KL. (2012). Differential associations between ovarian hormones and disordered eating symptoms across the menstrual cycle in women. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(3):333-44. doi: 10.1002/eat.20941. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21656540/
- Reed BG, Carr BR. (2018) The normal menstrual cycle and the control of ovulation. In: Feingold KR, Anawalt B, Boyce A, et al., editors. Endotext [Internet]. South Dartmouth (MA): MDText.com, Inc.; 2000-. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.