Ever had to battle through nausea when you’re on a period? You’re definitely not alone there. Everyone’s cycle is different, but gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and even vomiting are quite common during the menstrual period, but that doesn’t mean you’re powerless. Let’s run though what causes period nausea and what you can do to get it under control.
What causes nausea during periods?
There’s a link between the chemical messengers of the menstrual cycle and the digestive system. Towards the end of your cycle, the uterus gets ready to shed the endometrium lining built up over the course of the month, which is what you shed as your period.
To do this, the body releases hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins. These prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract – which you may recognize as menstrual cramps.
Prostaglandins don’t just affect the uterus. High levels of prostaglandins can cause muscle contraction along the GI tract, leading to feelings of nausea and other digestive troubles like diarrhea. Levels of prostaglandins are high during the first few days of your period.
Period nausea: Can it be a sign of a gynecological disease?
Period symptoms can vary between individuals, so what’s “normal” for one person might not be for you. However, nausea during periods can be associated with dysmenorrhea – in other words, painful periods that interfere with your daily life.
Dysmenorrhea can involve mild-to-severe pain from lower abdominal cramping, as well as nausea and vomiting, backache, headache and even fainting. For most healthy women, it’s thought that elevated prostaglandin levels are to blame for symptoms like nausea during your menstrual period. The higher your prostaglandin levels, the worse your symptoms tend to be.
However, painful periods and symptoms like menstrual nausea can be a sign of conditions like endometriosis and fibroids. Either way, these kinds of symptoms shouldn’t be ruining your whole week: see a doctor if your period symptoms get in the way of school and work.
Medical treatments for period nausea
Medicines called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are able to block the production of prostaglandins that cause nausea during periods. This includes pain relief medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen, which you can get without a prescription at pharmacies.
The problem here is that NSAIDs aren’t suitable for everyone – and, ironically, they can cause nausea as a side effect in their own right. Before using NSAIDs, speak to your doctor if you haven’t tried them before.
Hormonal birth control
Hormonal birth control like the contraceptive pill works by putting the kibosh on ovulation, and preventing the uterine lining from becoming too thick. This is another effective way of keeping your prostaglandin levels low.
Preventing nausea during periods
Sometimes it’s hard to predict when menstrual symptoms like nausea are going to strike. However, there are steps you can take to prevent period nausea.
Track your cycle
If you have a good idea of when your period usually arrives, it’s possible to start taking preventative steps beforehand. You could predict when you’re about to have a period through marking off days on a calendar, charting your basal body temperature or even using a smartphone app.
This allows you to take an NSAID in the 24 hours before your period begins, blocking the production of prostaglandins which make you feel sick. However, NSAIDs aren’t suitable for everyone, so check with your doctor first.
Include anti-inflammatory foods in your diet
You might not feel too hungry when mid-period nausea has you feeling crummy, but a balanced diet can go a long way. For instance, while there’s no magic superfood you can eat once a month to prevent menstrual nausea, some study suggests that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in cold-water fish, could help reduce the production of prostaglandins.
According to traditional Chinese medicine theory, letting your body get too cold can cause uncomfortable menstrual symptoms like nausea.
If your period nausea strikes worst in the cooler months or you’re stuck under the AC at the office, keep your belly rugged up. Warming drinks like hot ginger or mint tea could also help settle your stomach.
Don’t surrender to nausea during periods
When period pain and cramping already have you feeling lousy, waves of nausea can be the last thing you need. However, you don’t have to suffer through it alone. Nausea during the menstrual period is common, and mostly down to the prostaglandin fluctuations you experience during this time.
If you can’t get your symptoms under control with over-the-counter remedies, don’t hesitate to speak to a doctor. After all, feeling sick for days isn’t “just part of being a woman” – and you deserve to feel great, no matter what time of the month it is.