What Causes Period Poops?

By Jennifer Nadel, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
April 11, 2022

If you menstruate, chances are you’re more than familiar with the emotional symptoms that can occur before or during your period, like increased feelings of anxiety, depression, and sensitivity.

Certain physical symptoms are fairly common too, including abdominal cramps, tender breasts, and food cravings. 

In addition to all of those changes, some people may also notice certain gastrointestinal changes around the time of their period, like diarrhea or constipation.

Experiencing an increase in diarrhea, constipation, bloating, and other gastrointestinal changes around your menstrual period is very common.

Though experts are still investigating why these changes happen, some believe that fluctuating hormones and other changes in relation to menstruation may make these symptoms appear in some people.

Understanding the possible causes of your gastrointestinal changes can help you determine whether certain lifestyle or diet changes in response to your cycle may help.

But if your gastrointestinal and other symptoms make it difficult to carry on with your daily tasks and responsibilities, speaking with a healthcare provider can help to find you the right treatment plan.

Periods and Bowel Movements

Experts are still investigating the relationship between menstruation and gastrointestinal symptoms and changes. 

However, evidence shows that many people with uteruses experience an increase in gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms in the weeks leading up to menstruation and during menstruation. 

GI symptoms can vary among individuals, but some of the most commonly experienced around menstruation include:

Additional studies suggest that those with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may experience worsened GI symptoms right before their period and during menstruation when compared to those without IBS or an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), like Crohn’s disease

Symptoms of IBS can include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Bloating
  • Whitish mucus in stool

Though experts are still unclear why people with IBS may experience worse GI symptoms during or before menstruation, one theory suggests that it’s due to an increase in prostaglandin levels during menstruation

Unfortunately, it’s unclear exactly what causes IBS, but speaking with a provider about your history and symptoms can help them to make appropriate recommendations for lifestyle changes, medicines, and other therapies that can help.

In addition to having IBS, there are other possible links between certain conditions and increased GI symptoms around your period, which we’ll cover next.

Increased muscle contractions

Elevated prostaglandin levels can affect muscle contractions in the uterus and abdomen.

Specifically, prostaglandin production in the uterus during the premenstrual period may indirectly trigger an inflammatory response that can cause pain and abnormal uterine contractions

Though experts aren’t sure whether prostaglandin production in the gut affects prostaglandin production in the uterus, it’s clear that prostaglandin production in the gut can lead to increased pain and diarrhea. 

Increased progesterone

Hormones normally fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle.

After ovulation, progesterone levels rise for about five days before lowering again right before your period.

During this part of the luteal phase, an increase in progesterone levels may cause slower digestion, which can cause constipation in the days leading up to your period.

Dietary changes

Increased progesterone can also cause premenstrual cravings.

Premenstrual cravings can vary, but some of the more common cravings include cravings for food that are high in fat, salt, and/or sugar.

Eating large quantities of these types of foods can cause temporary changes in your stool, including constipation, foul-smelling stool, bloating, and gas.

Increased stress and anxiety

On their own, stress and anxiety can cause diarrhea and constipation, thanks to what some people refer to as the gut-brain axis.

However, every person may experience a different GI symptom in response to their psychological state.

For example, some people may experience anxiety-induced diarrhea, while others may get constipated in times of stress or high anxiety. 

Evidence also suggests that people who experience emotional symptoms in relation to their menstrual period, like depression, anxiety, or fatigue, may be more likely to experience GI symptoms as well. 

Diarrhea and Constipation

Diarrhea and constipation are two common GI symptoms that can occur during the premenstrual or menstrual period. 

Fluctuating levels of estrogen, progesterone, and prostaglandins are likely part of the reason some people may experience diarrhea, constipation, or both leading up to or during their menstrual period. 

Though the timing of these symptoms varies for each person, constipation can be a common symptom during the premenstrual period, while diarrhea is more commonly experienced at the start of the menstrual period.

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Tips for Dealing With Period Poops

Experiencing GI symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps, or bloating around the time of your period is very common.

Understanding that these symptoms are possible and common is the first step to acknowledging any changes you may experience during this time. 

Though you cannot always prevent GI symptoms from appearing before or during your period, knowing which symptoms your body cycles through can help you to make certain changes that can help. 

For example, if you tend to get constipated during the luteal phase in the week or weeks leading up to your period, increasing your intake of fiber through foods or certain supplements may help you to have more regular bowel movements. 

Alternatively, if you get diarrhea around the start of your period, eating less fibrous foods during these days may help to counteract your GI symptoms. 

If your GI symptoms cause you significant pain or disrupt your quality of life in any way, it’s a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider for help.

Discussing your symptoms with them can help them to make certain medication or lifestyle recommendations that may help you to feel more comfortable throughout your menstrual cycle. 

When To See a Doctor

Having a period doesn’t mean you have to suffer.

If you regularly experience any symptoms related to your period that cause you significant pain, discomfort, or distress, reach out to a provider whom you trust to ask which treatments or lifestyle changes can help. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app? Download K Health to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a provider in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is based on 20 years of clinical data.

Why do I poop a lot during my period?
Several gastrointestinal changes can occur around or during your period. Pooping more frequently and having diarrhea are two common changes that can happen at the start of your menstrual period. Though more research is needed to determine why this happens, experts believe that it may be partly a result of fluctuating hormones and prostaglandin levels during this time.
Why do my stools become softer during menstruation?
Before the start of your period, the uterus produces more prostaglandins to help trigger the shedding of the lining of your uterus. Prostaglandins are a group of lipids involved in dealing with injury and illness. This increase in prostaglandins can cause symptoms in some people, including cramps, nausea, stomach pain, and softer stools. Some people may even experience diarrhea for a few days during this time.
Is it normal to have diarrhea during my period?
Yes, it’s very normal to have diarrhea while on your period. Hormone fluctuations, as well as increased prostaglandin production in the uterus, are believed to cause softer poops and diarrhea around the menstrual period.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Jennifer Nadel, MD

Dr. Jennifer Nadel is a board certified emergency medicine physician and received her medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine. She has worked in varied practice environments, including academic urban level-one trauma centers, community hospital emergency departments, skilled nursing facilities, telemedicine, EMS medical control, and flight medicine.

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