Raise your hand if you’ve ever experienced a bout of PMS that felt almost as if your body were using some sort of lethal weapon against you. It’s a very unfortunate fact of life that menstrual cycles can be brutal, and you never really know when all of those raging hormones are going to wreak havoc on your lady parts and make you feel physically and mentally unwell. These periods of chills and cold sweats aren’t in your head, though; your period can make you sick, but even though it feels like you’re going to die a slow, painful, pelvic-throbbing death on your couch, this isn’t your immune system acting up. It’s actually entirely hormonal.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Every woman’s menstrual cycle is unique, so if the worst thing to ever happen to you pre-, post- or during your period was some uncomfortable cramping or a small headache, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. I know my body, and when I get my period, my back hurts, I have sharp pains in my pelvic area and around my abs, and I’m out of commission for about a day or so. Having said that, let me remind you that a woman’s period is not an illness, but for some, it honestly feels that way, so much so that they'll sometimes mistake their flow for the flu.
When PMS symptoms become severe, it can feel like an actual illness.
The reason why some women feel absolutely awful on their periods can be explained with — wait for it — science! But, it’s kind of complicated to explain, so I reached out to an expert to break it down for us. According to Siena Dixon, the founder of Bootsy Chuchu, a site that supports women who live with irregular menstrual cycles, "period-flu" happens when hormone-like substances called prostaglandins go haywire. During a woman’s cycle, prostaglandins “cause the uterus lining to contract,” Dixon tells Elite Daily, shedding its layers, and causing us to bleed. Still with me?
When the prostaglandins are produced in excess, PMS symptoms are likely to worsen. They also interfere with your body’s ability to fight pain, which doesn’t really help either, and can “reduce bowel movement,” Dixon continues, resulting in "nausea, vomiting, and constipation." Now, doesn't that just sound lovely?
There is a silver lining, though. U by Kotex partner Dr. Molly O-Shea tells Elite Daily you can keep prostaglandins from doing you dirty by "taking ibuprofen three times a day for the few days prior to your period." This won't stop your period, of course, but it can soften the blow of cramping and other flu-like symptoms. Notice how she said "flu-like," y'all.
Despite overlapping symptoms, "period-flu" is not the same as influenza.
Disclaimer: All this isn’t to say that no woman has ever caught the flu on her period, but there are ways to determine if it’s not actually the flu, and that, instead, you're expecting a visit from Aunt Flo any day now. Timing, Dixon says, is everything.
“If you track your cycle and have regular menstrual frequency,” Dixon explains, “you will notice the onset of flu-like symptoms leading up to, and possibly during, menstruation.” In other words, check your calendar, friends. If your body breaks out in a cold sweat and you’re feeling especially tired days before your period's due, your flow is probably the reason why you feel like sh*t.
However, if these symptoms last more than a few days, then it’s probably in your best interest to pencil in an appointment with your physician. Especially this season, when the influenza epidemic appears to have taken a turn for the worst, it’s extremely important to become familiar with the symptoms of the flu, to listen to your body, and to seek medical attention if you even think there might be a chance you’ve caught a whiff of the bug.
Now, more than ever before, your health should be top priority.
Obviously, both your mental and physical health should always be one, if not the top of your priorities, but this year, the flu epidemic isn't playing around. To put it bluntly, the 2018 outbreak of the flu has already surpassed any numbers of fatalities and infections recorded since the public health authorities originally started keeping track.
Dan Jernigan, the director of the influenza division at the National Center For Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told Fortune that "there is a widespread activity in all of the U.S. at this point," and it's hitting its peak quickly. In other words, we're all at risk.
It's not something you realize day to day. I know myself, and I've definitely become familiar with that whole "it'll never happen to me" mentality, but you should always take the necessary precautions when you can. Your health is not something to be gambled with. The information is out there, but it's up to you to sort through the facts, and become better acquainted with your body so you can acknowledge red flags when they're violently waving, or recognize a misjudgment before jumping to conclusions.