As you approach the first day of your period, your body changes hormonally, triggering many physiological responses. Some of those responses are uncomfortable, like back pain, cramping, and mood swings.
Understanding what’s happening in our bodies can calm anxiety, empower us to take necessary steps, and help us respond to our bodies correctly to reduce our symptoms. This quick guide will help you navigate your period symptoms to know what to expect and understand when you need to see a healthcare professional.
With this guide, you’ll learn about:
- The most common period symptoms
- Ways to reduce period symptoms
How to track your period symptoms
When to see a healthcare professional about your period symptoms
The Most Common Symptoms
97% of women experience period symptoms, according to research by Active Iron (1). The cause of each symptom is not clear, but most doctors believe that changes in hormone levels during the menstrual cycle cause period symptoms.
While the duration and severity of these symptoms vary from woman to woman, these are the most common symptoms that women experience due to their periods.
Typical Symptoms Most Women Experience:
- Stomach cramps/pain
- Stomach bloating
- Sore breasts/breast tenderness
- Skin breakouts
- Mood changes
- Low iron levels
- Change in bowel movements
- Change of appetite
How To Relieve Period Symptoms?
Many women can lessen their period symptoms with simple lifestyle changes. The following natural lifestyle changes to women who experience period symptoms:
- Get regular aerobic physical activity throughout the month: For many women, regular aerobic exercise may lessen period symptoms, like tiredness and fatigue. It’s suggested that women exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week throughout the month.
- Choose healthy foods: A healthy, balanced diet rich in complex carbohydrates (like whole grains, brown rice, and lentils) and calcium (like yogurt and leafy green vegetables) may help relieve period symptoms².
- Stay hydrated: Dehydration can worsen cramps and increase pain during a period. Drinking enough water can reduce bloating during your period and alleviate some period pain. A 2021 study published by BMC Women’s Health affirmed that water intake might reduce pain intensity during a woman’s menstrual period³.
- Sleep: Fatigue is one of the most common period symptoms among women. Aim to sleep for at least 7-9 hours a night leading up to and during your period to give your body the rest it needs. Sleeping in certain positions can also provide some pain relief. Try placing a pillow under your knees while laying on your back or in the fetal or child’s pose position to relieve period cramps.
- Use pain killers: Anti-inflammatory pain relief, like Ibuprofen, taken before or at the onset of your period, can ease cramping and breast pain. Alternatively, heat can relax the muscles in your uterus, increase blood flow, and alleviate period pain. Try soaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad on your lower abdomen to relieve menstrual cramping.
- Consider hormonal contraceptives: Hormonal contraceptives (the pill), which stop ovulation, may relieve period symptoms. Your GP can talk with you about this option if needed.
- Try acupuncture: Some women have experienced symptom relief after acupuncture treatment and alleviating period symptoms like cramps, nausea, headaches, anxiety, and insomnia. A 2018 study published by the NCBI found that acupuncture may reduce menstrual pain and associated symptoms more effectively than NSAIDs painkillers⁴.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress: Relaxation therapy, like breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, massage therapy, and healthy sleeping habits, can lessen mood changes and fatigue.
- Avoid certain foods and habits: The Office on Women’s Health advises that women avoid smoking, reduce caffeine, alcohol, salt, sugar, and fat which may help lessen period symptoms.
- Take a supplement: Monthly periods are the most significant cause of iron loss worldwide, which often leads to inadequate iron levels. Iron supplements such as Active Iron can help support energy levels, tackle tiredness as well as helping to support cognitive and immune function.
If your symptoms are severe, your doctor may prescribe one or more medications to help. Talk to your healthcare professional about your period symptoms and keep them updated on any change or increase of symptoms you experience.
How to Track Your Symptoms
Tracking your period symptoms can your doctor understands your cycle better and notice anything abnormal. To track your symptoms, log them on a day-to-day basis throughout your entire menstrual cycle. Note any period symptoms you experience, how long each lasts, and the severity of each symptom.
If you keep track of your symptoms over several months, your doctor will be able to recognize patterns in your symptoms. Please take all of the information you track with you when you go see your healthcare professional so that they can evaluate your symptoms and determine whether any treatment is necessary.
Tools that Can Help You Track Your Symptoms
While you certainly can log your symptoms with a simple notepad and pencil, there are many tools available that can make tracking more straightforward and informational. Printable period charts (5), MyFLO (6), and Daysy (7) can help track, identify and explain your period symptoms.
Whichever you choose, tracking your period symptoms doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming, but it can help shed light on why and when specific symptoms affect your cycle.
When to See a Doctor About Your Period Symptoms
Each year, women of childbearing age should visit their doctor or gynecologist for a regular exam. Request a blood test in addition to your annual exam to check your vitamin and nutrient levels. Blood tests can help you detect deficiencies, like inadequate iron levels, which contribute to some period symptoms like tiredness and fatigue.
During these visits, always inform your doctor about your periods and the symptoms you experience, even if they seem normal to you. Keeping your doctor informed will allow them to track any changes or note any abnormalities.
If your symptoms fall outside of the most common period symptoms listed above, contact your doctor and ask if you need to come in for an examination. Severe or abnormal period symptoms may need treatment. Talk to your doctor if your period is causing you to:
- Experience severe pain
Miss work or school
Feel regularly tired
Have intense mood swings
Struggle to participate in your usual daily activities or duties
Have More Questions About Your Period?
This short guide on period symptoms can help you understand common symptoms among other women and what you can do to improve your period. There’s far more to a woman’s reproductive system and period than just the symptoms. To gain a deeper understanding of the menstrual cycle, visit our Period Health Page.
- Survey with 2,000 UK women conducted by Active Iron
- Premenstrual syndrome
- Water intake in the severity of pain and menstrual distress
- The efficacy and safety of acupuncture in women with primary dysmenorrhea
- Printable period charts
- MyFlo period tracker