Feeling Sick On Your Period? 5 Questions About "Period Colds," Answered
We've got plenty to worry about when it comes to feeling sick on our periods — mind-numbing cramps, heavy bleeding, constipation, bloating, etc. It ain't easy shedding that uterine wall lining, and the hard work sometimes takes a toll on us. But as if all the typical period side effects aren't bad enough, there are also a lot of us who face cold and flu-like symptoms during our periods as well. It's like we've been hit with a nasty cold the week before our period arrives, complete with slight fever, stuffy nose, and body aches.
I know I've been there — more than once. I remember lying in bed nauseous, clutching a tissue box and a hot water bottle, wondering why menstruating has to be so damn hard sometimes. Well, it doesn't necessarily have to be that difficult all the time. The more you know, the more you can sometimes mitigate the symptoms. Sometimes the flu-like ailments can be clearly explained, while other times they're a mystery. Then there's the small chance they are pointing to something more serious. No matter what, if you've had a fever before on your period, or are wondering why you always seem to get a cold on your period, just know you're not the only one.
Here are five questions about getting sick on your period, answered.
1. What Symptoms Are Normal Before And During Your Period?
Let's start with the basics. Pretty much every human being who has ever menstruated has encountered cramps, moodiness, and maybe bloating. "Normal menstrual symptoms can include, but are not limited to: tender breasts, bloating, fluid retention, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, abdominal cramps, mild acne, change in bowel habits and maybe trouble sleeping," Dr. Michael Cackovic, an OB/GYN at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Bustle via email.
Then there's the heavy bleeding, which 10 million Americans experience at some point in their menstruating lifetime. None of these symptoms should alarm you, unless they're putting you in extreme, miserable discomfort, of course.
2. What Are The Cold And Flu-Like PMS Symptoms?
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that, in addition to the typical afflictions, some people might get a bad headache, body and muscle aches, or a runny nose around the time of their period. They also may feel fatigued, especially in the late afternoon when the blood sugar drops, and then they're not able to perform daily tasks. It's also not uncommon to hear people report nausea and vomiting leading up to and/or during their period. Other correlated symptoms include dizziness, loss of appetite, sensitivity to light, and irritability. It's different for everyone, though, just like the flu doesn't look the same for every individual.
3. Why Do You Seem More Likely To Get A Cold When You're PMSing Or On Your Period?
While Dr. Cackovic says there's not a great deal of science behind this phenomenon, some research suggests that your immune system may temporarily decline when you're PMSing. We know for sure that prostaglandins play a big role in the whole thing too. Prostaglandins are a fatty acid compound that affect the body much like hormones; when your body is preparing for a period, they are released from the uterus in order to make way for bleeding. But they can have a nasty effect on the rest of the body. Dr. Molly O'Shea, a pediatrician in Oakland County, Michigan, says prostaglandins can find their way to the intestines, resulting in flu-like traits like vomiting, nausea, and "general achiness." Not fun.
Not all experts are in agreement, though. Dr. Steven R. Goldstein, OBGYN professor at New York University School of Medicine, told Cosmopolitan that some people confuse cold symptoms — runny nose, sore throat, etc. — with preexisting allergies or similar conditions that are simply exacerbated by the hormonal changes of your period. So it's possible you're not really, truly getting a cold. You're just experiencing whatever health issues you had before, only more aggravated. Awesome.
4. When Should You Be Worried About These Symptoms?
"Fevers, or temperatures over 100.5 degrees, are never normal and should prompt a call to your medical provider," Dr. Cackovic says. Call your doctor immediately to schedule an appointment. Although the chances are slim, you might be facing an infection like Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
In fact, if any of these symptoms happen every single month for more than a few days at a time, and leave you debilitated for a day or two, have a chat with your OBGYN to see if there's something else going on. If you always feel like you get a cold on your period, you could be facing a serious hormonal imbalance or nutrient deficiency. While there are a lot of women who get hit with these ailments, that doesn't mean it's completely normal — and it definitely doesn't mean you have to accept them lying down.
5. What Can You Do To Prevent Feeling Sick?
None of us will feel 100% all the time, but certain lifestyle choices can help your body be best prepared for any setbacks. Dr. Cackovic recommends that you "Stay hydrated, eat well, [and] exercise" as three simple ways to boost your body's functioning. Getting enough sleep and minimizing stress can also improve your body's immune system.
Above all else, establish a good relationship with an OBGYN you trust. They will be able to guide you through every twist and turn of your period. At the end of the day, it's comforting to know they're the expert, so you don't have to face your period alone and unprepared.
This post was originally published on December 31, 2015. It was updated on June 6, 2019.