Some people’s periods arrive like clockwork each month, with little to no surprises in the agonizing symptoms department. Others are stuck navigating a scramble of symptoms every month, as if Mother Nature were picking from a hat and dealing out mood swings, cramps, and migraines at random. But the truth is, nothing that goes on in the human body is random. If you’re someone who never really knows what to expect during that special time of the month, here’s a bit of comfort: It’s not your imagination — there are some real reasons why your period is worse some months than others. It has a lot to do with your lifestyle choices, and everything to do with how your hormones respond to them.
According to Sandy Knauf, a family nurse practitioner, PMS occurs when estrogen and progesterone are at their peak just before you bleed. While estrogen can trigger the onset of bloating, changes in sleep pattern, headaches, mood swings, and even cysts on the breasts, progesterone is responsible for hormonal breakouts, cravings, irritability, fatigue, and breast tenderness.
Based on this information alone, you could write off your yo-yoing PMS as estrogen and progesterone just running amok whenever they see fit. But your hormones only act out if they have a reason to do so. So why is your period worse — sometimes even more painful — some months, but pretty manageable the next? Here's what experts have to say about this kind of fluctuation:
Foods such as pizza, french fries, and bagel sandwiches might be comforting in those few first bites, but Shepherd warns processed foods pumped with white sugars and flours cause inflammation inside the body. Period plus added inflammation equals disaster.
“Eat more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables [during your period],” Shepherd suggests, adding that implementing probiotics into your diet can also help “decrease inflammation and normalize the pH [aka the acidity and alkalinity] of your body.”
According to board-certified OBGYN Dr. Heather Bartos, MD, every month, your uterus "sheds" the uterine lining and blood as a way of "self-cleaning." Sometimes it sheds more, sometimes it sheds less. The more it has to shed, the heavier the flow.
"The uterus is a muscle and 'contractions' push out menstrual flow," Bartos explains. Stress, hormone changes, being “late,” and normal fluctuations of hormones can all contribute to the change in flow, she says. Ergo, if your period is heavier than last month, there's a good chance your symptoms might be a little more intense, too.
Have you been feeling stressed lately? Try your best to do everything you can to stay calm. This is much easier said than done, but listen up: Bartos tells Elite Daily that not only can stress make your period feel a million times worse, but it can also make it disappear, so keeping stress levels on the down-low is crucial.
To destress and nip panic in the bud before it even has the chance to bloom and wreak havoc on your menstrual-stricken body, Shepherd suggests working off the anxieties with yoga sequences and sessions at the gym. "Exercises helps with stress," Shepherd explains, "triggering the release of endorphins with can induce 'exercise euphoria,' and altered pain perception, which can help with menstrual pain and cramps."
Even if your period comes and your body is begging you for rest, simply taking a leisurely walk or doing easy stretches can help.
Did you by chance change up your birth control in the past few months? Did you start taking the pill or get an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted? If so, you’re pretty much expected to be experiencing changes in your cycle right now, says obstetrician-gynecologist Maureen Whelihan. “When people start a new birth control, we always tell people, ‘anything goes in the first three months,’” Whelihan tells Elite Daily, adding that it’s normal to see fluctuations in the heaviness of bleeding or the intensity of cramps as your body adjusts to the synthetic hormones.
“Most of what you experience is bothersome, rather than concerning,” Whelihan adds. “Now, if something is really remarkable, we’ll intervene, but usually we just try to give as much information as possible up front and have you ride it out. ”
If you’re experiencing major changes in bleeding or PMS, you should consider seeing a doctor. You’re typically in the clear if you only have one month when your cramps are more excruciating than usual. “One weird period doesn’t really alert us to anything worrisome,” says Whelihan. But say you experience heavy bleeding for three cycles in a row — that might be indicative of something worth getting checked out.
“We’re typically looking for trends — for example, three weird cycles,” Whelihan reveals, though there are some instances in which she’d recommend coming in sooner rather than later. “If you’re bleeding heavily, like hemorrhaging, and you’re not clotting, which is a safety thing, then you need to seek attention because you can be anemic,” she says. Also, if you start bleeding lightly and don’t stop for a month, Whelihan recommends reaching out to your doctor.
One last suggestion from Whelihan: Buy and take a pregnancy test. Being pregnant could also cause plenty of changes to your cycle and what seems like PMS symptoms.
Sandy Knauf, family nurse practitioner
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, OBGYN and general women’s health expert
Dr. Heather Bartos, MD, board-certified OBGYN
Maureen Whelihan, OBGYN
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