This Unexpected Health Issue Might Be Making Your PMS A Nightmare, According To Science

by Julia Guerra

Let’s say your PMS symptoms are pretty nightmarish these days. They were always annoying, but popping ibuprofen or going to bed early usually helped them pass. Now, they’re almost impossible to ignore: The sharp pain piercing through your pelvic muscles practically has you glued to a heating pad for days in a row, and the mere act of sitting upright at your desk is the ultimate test of your patience. If your symptoms have intensified out of the blue, new research suggests that undiagnosed STIs can make your PMS worse, so even if you’ve been super careful in the bedroom, it’s definitely worth making a trip to the gyno, just to be safe. After all, there really is no such thing as being too careful.

Besides, when was the last time you even had a routine check-up down yonder? Is your annual appointment the only time of year you make it a point to speak with your gynecologist? Because, honestly, same. I generally avoid making an appointment with my lady doctor if I can help it, but that’s more or less because it’s a hassle to get there, and the wait to actually see my OBGYN is borderline torturous. When something even feels slightly off, though, the first thing I do is pick up the phone and dial him in. That way, I can at least give him a general report, and we can determine whether or not a meeting is necessary.

The thing is, your vagina is one of the most sensitive parts of your body, and according to a recent study, letting something as serious as a sexually transmitted infection go undiagnosed can put your body, and your period at risk.

For their study, researchers from the University of Oxford, in collaboration with experts from the women’s health and fertility-tracking app, Clue, collected data from 865 Clue users. The goal was to figure out how many women had previously been diagnosed with an STI, when and how they were diagnosed, and what treatments they had subsequently received, ScienceDaily reports. From this information, combined with each user's profile, logged cycle history, and noted contraception use, researchers noticed a pattern between those who have experienced STIs and intense PMS symptoms.

Based on their analysis, which has now been published in the journal Evolution Medicine & Public Health, the researchers were able to show that, prior to being diagnosed with an STI such as chlamydia, herpes, or HPV, a woman’s chances of experiencing more pain and moodiness during PMS nearly doubled. So here's what that means for you: If you've noticed that your PMS symptoms have suddenly become more intense or debilitating, and you've ruled out all the other major factors (think significant changes in sleep, diet, other medical conditions, etc.), it could be a red flag indicating that there's some kind of inflammation in the body, such as an undiagnosed STI, and that's what could be making your symptoms worse. Dr. Alexandra Alvergne, an associate professor of anthropology at Oxford University and lead author of the study, said in a statement,

Our research shows that by better understanding their period and menstrual cycle, women could potentially improve their health. If you know that severe PMS could be an indicator of an underlying STI, you are more likely to listen to your body.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year,” and that’s just in the United States alone. What’s worse, not only are some STIs asymptomatic — meaning you won’t know you have one unless you’re a) diagnosed, or b) the symptoms spread throughout the body — but some forms of contraception, like condoms, can’t prevent you from catching certain STIs. It’s a really tricky situation, and really, the only way to 100 percent guarantee your safety is to practice abstinence. However, if you do choose to have sex, there are a few best practices to keep in mind that can help you stay safe and healthy.

First things first, always practice safe sex. Talk openly and honestly to your OBGYN about your sex life, and be prepared. Go into your appointment with questions, and address any concerns you might have. Make sure you know all of your options, and express the kinds of things you’re comfortable with so you and your doctor can establish what method of contraception is right for you. And, as honest as you are with your doctor, be equally as honest with your partner, and stress that it’s super important that they, too, are just as open and honest with you.