Certain aspects of having a period are talked about more frequently than others, like dealing with menstural cramps, sore boobs, and bloating. But there’s one common symptom that, for whatever reason, gets less buzz: period poop.
Yup, it’s not just you—pooping habits can get weird during your period. “Many people do get bowel changes just before or during their period,” Kyle Staller, MD, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, tells SELF. That includes a whole potential host of things, from period constipation to period diarrhea, with some people just pooping more than usual during that time of the month.
Maybe you just happened to notice that period poop is a thing for you and are simply curious about what, exactly, is going on down there. Or maybe period poop is a problem for you and you need a solution ASAP. Either way, getting to the bottom of this (no pun intended) can go a long way toward helping you understand your body and figuring out a solution if your period poops start to interfere with your life. Here’s what you need to know about this totally normal phenomenon.
What are period poops?
Some people refer to changes in bowel movement that happen around their menstrual cycle as period poops. As with most other period wonkiness, you can thank hormonal fluctuations for this phenomenon. “The reason that this happens is largely due to hormones,” Dr. Staller says. That includes constipation that starts before your period and subsequent diarrhea or excessive pooping that happens once aunt Flo has actually come to town.
Preperiod constipation could be a result of an increase in the hormone progesterone, which starts to increase in the time between ovulation and when you get your period.1 Progesterone can cause food to move more slowly through your intestines, backing you up in the process.
But levels of progesterone plummet around the same time that your period starts.1 Simultaneously, there’s an increase in hormone-like compounds in your body called prostaglandins. The cells that make up the lining of your uterus (known as endometrial cells), produce these prostaglandins, which get released as the lining of your uterus breaks down right before and during menstruation. These chemicals cause the blood vessels and muscles in the uterus to contract. If your body has high levels of prostaglandins, they can make their way into the muscle that lines your bowels.
There, they can cause your intestines to contract just like your uterus and push out fecal matter quickly, Ashkan Farhadi, MD, a gastroenterologist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, tells SELF. (Fun fact: These prostaglandins are also responsible for those painful menstrual cramps you might get every month.) This explains why you might have diarrhea or poop so much more often during your period.
Of course this can all vary for different people. But if you notice you experience constipation or diarrhea right around your period like clockwork, this may be why.
Can health conditions cause period poop changes?
Certain health conditions like endometriosis, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis, can flare up during menstruation, leading to bowel changes. For example, if you struggle with Crohn’s disease, which can often cause diarrhea, or IBS-D (a form of IBS that causes people to have diarrhea), your body’s release of prostaglandins during your period may exacerbate your condition, worsening your diarrhea. But if you suffer from IBS-C (IBS that causes people to have constipation), you may find yourself struggling even more to have a bowel movement on your period as progesterone further slows your bowels’ activity. Since ulcerative colitis can lead to both diarrhea and constipation, you might experience an uptick in either during your period.
What does it mean if it hurts to poop during my period?
There are a few potential reasons why it might hurt to poop on your period. If it’s something you notice here and there—especially if you’re dealing with a lot of diarrhea—it could be a side effect of diarrhea itself, like cramping in your stomach or even irritation around your anus from going so often, Dr. Farhadi says.