Is Period Flu Real? Causes and Symptoms Explained
Ever feel like you’re coming down with the flu, only to find out that it’s actually your period? You are not alone. The phenomenon of “period flu” has been widely discussed in magazines, blogs, and message boards and even though it isn’t technically a virus or illness, it can still make you feel a bit down and icky!
Intrigued? Read on to learn all about what “period flu” is, what it feels like, how to treat its symptoms, and when you should pay a visit to your doctor’s office.
What is period flu and is it real?
Period flu is a slang term for the cluster of flu-like emotions that women can sometimes experience before or during their period. It is in no way related to influenza; however, it is a real phenomenon and the term “period flu” is simply used to describe what the symptoms feel like.
Many doctors consider period flu as an “exaggerated” form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) due to the severity of its symptoms. This includes feelings of extreme fatigue, headache, muscle aches, nausea, and digestive issues.
Due to limited medical research, it is not possible to receive an official diagnosis for period flu. However, it’s still important to be aware of its symptoms and potential relevance to your own individual cycle.
Period flu symptoms
Period flu can feel a lot like the common cold or influenza. For example, typical symptoms of period flu include:
● Nausea and/or dizziness
● Bowel disruptions such as constipation or diarrhea
● Cramping and/or bloating
● Muscle aches and pains
● Extreme fatigue
● Fever and/or chills
What causes period flu?
Like PMS, the cause of period flu can be chalked up to the body’s response to changing hormone levels. This is because before your period, progesterone levels drop dramatically. This drop in progesterone can affect certain neurotransmitters in your brain, like serotonin, which then leads to mood swings, increased feelings of fatigue, and sleep disruptions.
In addition to decreasing progesterone levels, another potential cause of flu-like symptoms around your period is the impact of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are a type of fatty acid, and in women, one of their key roles is to help the uterus shed its lining during menstruation. This process can cause inflammation resulting in pain and feeling feverish.
In sum, the cause of period flu is likely a combination of the following factors:
● Hormonal fluctuations, specifically the drop in progesterone.
● The impact of low progesterone levels on neurotransmitters (such as serotonin).
● The role of prostaglandins during your period.
How long does period flu last?
The duration of “period flu” or flu-like symptoms around your period can vary among individuals. For some it can last around two weeks, beginning as early as the day after ovulation and ending on the first day of their period. For others, it only lasts a few days before or during their period.
The best way to understand how long the symptoms last for you is to keep track of your symptoms. This can be done by simply logging in how you feel in a notebook or in a period tracking app. Over time, you may notice that your symptoms follow a pattern each cycle. You can then share this information with your doctor and they can provide further guidance.
Period flu treatments
One of the best ways to get some relief from period flu is by taking over-the-counter painkillers. For example, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can work wonders for managing pain and inflammation around the time of your period.
If you are not trying to conceive (TTC), taking a hormonal contraceptive (i.e. the pill) is another option for relieving flu-like symptoms around your period. This is because the pill prevents ovulation, which in turn helps to keep your hormone levels steady. For many individuals, this eases luteal phase symptoms, while also making their periods lighter and less painful.
In severe cases, a certain type of antidepressant can also be used to treat extreme symptoms. Known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), these antidepressants are often used in patients with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD).
In addition to heavy muscle pain, cramping, bloating, and headaches, individuals with PMDD may also experience more mood-related symptoms in the days or weeks before their period. This includes extreme irritability, anger, sadness, anxiety, panic, and even suicidal thoughts.
Another potential treatment option is taking diuretics, commonly referred to as “water pills”. These pills are designed to ease bloating and reduce the build-up of fluid in your body, which are symptoms that many individuals struggle with around their period.
Always speak with your doctor first before taking diuretics, as they may not be appropriate to take alongside other medications.
Home remedies and lifestyle treatment for period flu
Making certain dietary changes can also help to relieve unwanted symptoms around your period. For example, cutting back on sodium can help to relieve bloating, while eating a variety of fruits and vegetables can help to boost your energy levels and improve digestion. If you struggle to control pain and inflammation, it may also be worth following an anti-inflammatory diet in the days or weeks leading up to your period.
It’s also important to make sure that you are drinking enough water around the time of your period. From preventing bloating, aiding digestion, and boosting energy levels, water will be your best friend both before and during your period.
When it comes to the effectiveness of herbal supplements for treating period-related symptoms, there is limited scientific research available. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, the following vitamins and herbal supplements may help to soothe or alleviate symptoms:
● Vitamin E
● Vitamin B-6
● Evening primrose oil
● St. John’s wort
Before trying a new vitamin or herbal remedy, make sure to speak with your doctor, as they will know whether or not you can take it alongside any existing medications. This is especially true if you are currently taking birth control bills, as certain supplements may reduce their effectiveness.
Exercise is another powerful home remedy for relieving period-related symptoms. In fact, one study found that just 8 weeks of regular exercise could help to reduce symptoms of PMS. Exercise not only helps to improve your mood, but it can also reduce the intensity of headaches, limit muscle pain, and improve your quality of sleep.
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. This could be anything from walking or swimming to cycling, jogging, or playing a sport.
Period flu FAQ
Should I go to a doctor for period flu?
Experiencing mild flu-like symptoms in the run up to your period or even during your period is normal, and most of the time it’s not necessary to bring it up with your doctor.
However, if your symptoms prevent you from going to work/school or carrying out your daily responsibilities, that’s the appropriate time to make a doctor’s appointment. You should also speak with your doctor immediately if you are struggling with mood-related symptoms around the time of your period, such as extreme mood swings, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, or thoughts of suicide.
Why do I feel nauseous during my period?
The main reason why you may feel nauseous during your period is due to prostaglandins, which are the driving force behind helping your body shed its uterine lining. Prostaglandins are at their highest on day one of your period, which can lead to diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. It can also lead to headaches.
Nausea can be frustrating, but there are things you can do to relieve your symptoms. This includes going outside for some fresh air, sipping water throughout the day, and avoiding spicy or high-fat foods. Peppermint, ginger, and chamomile tea may also help.
Is it normal to get chills before my period?
Even though chills are not listed as a common symptom of PMS, there are still many reports online of individuals who experience chills before their period. These chills may also be accompanied by headaches, bloating, cramping, nausea, and feeling feverish.
The best way to combat the chills includes drinking plenty of water, eating regular nutritious meals, and keeping your body moving with regular exercise. If you find that your chills still won’t go away and they are interrupting your daily life, it might be a good idea to speak with your doctor for further advice.