Doctors Explain the Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments of the “Period Flu”

Many women have experienced the ‘period flu’ at some point in their lives. It is a term used to describe the common symptoms that occur during menstruation that are similar to those of the flu. These symptoms can include fatigue, headaches, body aches, nausea, and even fever. While it is not an official medical diagnosis, the ‘period flu’ is a real and common experience for many menstruating individuals.

In this blog post, we will explore what the ‘period flu’ is, its causes, and potential treatments to alleviate its symptoms. We spoke with medical professionals who shed light on the topic and provided insights into what is happening in the body during menstruation that may cause these symptoms.

It’s important to note that not all women experience the ‘period flu.’ Some may have mild to no symptoms, while others may experience severe symptoms that affect their daily life. Understanding what causes the ‘period flu’ can help women recognize and manage their symptoms better.

In addition to discussing the ‘period flu,’ we will also address the potential impact of menstrual cycles on overall health, including the immune system, mental health, and physical performance. Understanding the connection between menstruation and overall health is crucial for individuals who menstruate to take control of their well-being fully.

If you’re curious about the ‘period flu’ or want to learn how to manage your menstrual cycle’s symptoms better, keep reading. This post will provide helpful insights that can benefit you or someone you know who experiences the ‘period flu.’

Symptoms of Period Flu

Period-flu symptoms tend to vary from person to person. Some people will experience these flu-like symptoms in the days leading up to their period, while others will experience them for the duration of their period. According to Dr. Jacobson, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Mild temperature elevation
  • Headaches
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Feeling bloated
  • Diarrhea
  • Nasal congestion

The Causes of Period Fever

Running a mild fever ahead of your period is not uncommon. The uterus produces a chemical called prostaglandin, and “prostaglandins do all sorts of things,” says Dr. Minkin — including contract smooth muscles (like those of the uterus and the gut, which can cause those detestable cramps, diarrhea, and/or nausea). “Prostaglandins also can raise your temperature and make you achy in general,” Dr. Minkin explains.

Hormonal fluctuations can also contribute to you getting a fever ahead of your period. “Increases in progesterone levels at the time of ovulation cause an increase in basal body temperature,” Dr. Jacobson says. And hormone fluctuations during your cycle can cause your basal body temperature to increase anywhere from 0.3 to 1.0 degrees Celsius, Shannon Clark, MD, FACOG, and double board-certified ob-gyn, told POPSUGAR.

So let’s say your body typically runs 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, your temperature could go up to 100.4. This isn’t a huge spike, but it’s enough to give you the period flu, where you may feel clammy and hotter than usual.

How to Treat and Manage Period Flu

“Often, lifestyle changes to increase comfort and reduce stress during PMS can be very effective at managing severe symptoms,” says Dr. Jacobson — including period flu. She suggests:

  • Light exercise and movement.
  • Meditation or breathing exercises.
  • Getting 7–8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Avoiding junk-food cravings (large amounts of sugar, fat, and salt can trigger drastic mood swings).
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medication, even before symptoms begin, particularly ibuprofen and naproxen, which block the making of more prostaglandins, Dr. Minkin adds.

When symptoms are too severe and these at-home changes aren’t effective, Dr. Jacobson suggests consulting with your doctor for further evaluation and treatment recommendations.

They may recommend other FDA-approved medications used to manage some PMS symptoms and PMDD symptoms, including combination birth control pills or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

Treatments That May Provide Relief From Period Flu

Fortunately, you don’t have to live in agony when that time of the month rolls around. Treatments for period flu are similar to those for PMS. Here are some ways you can find relief for your period flu symptoms.

Eat a Healthy Balanced Diet

Research on the impact of certain foods and nutrients on PMS symptoms suggests a healthy diet primarily consisting of unprocessed foods is one of the best ways to ward off uncomfortable period-related conditions. Dr. Graves recommends eating plenty of inflammation-fighting foods, such as fruits and vegetables, to help fight the pain associated with the increased levels of prostaglandins. Studies also point to the positive effects of consuming increased amounts of calcium, magnesium, and vitamin B6 on premenstrual symptoms.

Try Hormonal Birth Control

“Birth control works because it stabilizes your hormones, so you don’t have that LH surge or drop in progesterone levels. Women who are on birth control don’t notice any major changes during their period. It keeps everything constant,” explains Dr. Shirazian. The best type of hormonal birth control — the pill, ring, patch, or intrauterine device (IUD) — for managing period flu depends on your symptoms. Ask your doctor to figure out the best choice for you.

The patch, pill, and ring work similarly because they’re systemic hormones, meaning they’re absorbed into the body and don’t go straight to your uterus, says Dr. Greves. But the hormonal IUD offers a more localized response in the uterus, so it may help with symptoms such as cramping and menstrual flow.

“For women who experience a lot of symptoms around their period, [hormonal birth control can] allow them to be able to go to work and do all of the lifestyle things they want. I would encourage women who suffer from a whole host of symptoms, including the ‘period flu,’ PMS, PCOS, and endometriosis, to consider hormonal birth control methods,” says Dr. Shirazian.

Stay Hydrated

A study in BMC Women’s Health found that Increased hydration is associated with a reduction in pain for those suffering from dysmenorrhea. Also, if one of your period flu symptoms is diarrhea, this can lead to dehydration, so make sure you’re getting enough H2O throughout the day, says Dr. Greves. Drinking water, tea, or broth can help replace the loss of fluid and electrolytes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Keep Moving

Exercise provides the natural release of feel-good endorphins and helps with the inflammation caused by the prostaglandins, explains Dr. Greves. So lace up your sneakers and head out for a walk, do some yoga, or lift some heavy weights — whatever works for you.

Take an Anti-Inflammatory

A turmeric supplement, such as Garden of Life’s MyKind Organics, Extra Strength Turmeric (Available at Walmart) — after first okay-ing it with your doctor — or pain medication, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help ease cramps and lower back pain, adds Dr. Shirazian.

Start taking the smallest dose (~200 mg) possible of NSAIDs (e.g. Aleve, Motrin, Advil) regularly about two days before your period starts to help ease prostaglandin-causing pain symptoms, provided you don’t have any contraindications, recommends Dr. Greves. Be sure to take the medication with food to avoid a stomach ache and, worse, ulcers. Once your period starts, gauge your symptoms to see if you need to continue to take them. For example, you can take a tablet every six hours as needed. “Some warm compresses can also help with back pain,” she adds.

Get Plenty of Rest

Increased fatigue and difficulty sleeping are often associated with fluctuations in progesterone and decreased levels of melatonin during the menstrual cycle. If you’re suffering from period flu symptoms, it’s important to get sufficient rest to help alleviate those symptoms.

When to See Your Doctor

Generally, the “period flu” isn’t something you should worry about too much, especially if you’re noticing a monthly pattern with your symptoms. The best way to approach it is to keep track of your symptoms by using a period tracking app or even a journal, and if any new ones pop up or if something feels off, reach out to your doctor.

“All of these symptoms can be [due to] lots of things. If we’re talking pelvic pain, nausea, and vomiting, then it can be ovarian cysts, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), and even pregnancy, so it depends on the specific symptoms,” explains Dr. Shirazian. “But if your symptoms are alleviated with your period or if they are cyclic in nature, then it’s less concerning.”

However, if the “period flu” is affecting your quality of life (think: staying home from work, forcing you to miss out on social activities), there’s absolutely no reason to continue living with it. Speak to your doctor about possible lifestyle changes and preventive options such as hormonal birth control.

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