Is It Just Me or Does Everyone Get Horrible Gas Before Their Period?
At least no one has to know if you have terrible cramps and mood swings.
The Nervous Googler writes Is It Just Me? for Health.com. She stays up at night searching for answers to health questions so you don’t have to. Send her the questions stressing you out at NervousGoogler@health.com.
Is it just me, or does every woman suddenly become a gas giant before and during their period? How come I can’t stop farting—and why are period farts so stinky?
You’d think the cramps, the breast tenderness, the these-pants-don’t-fit bloating, the fitful sleep, and the Cookie Monster-style rampaging of my fridge would be enough premenstrual torture for one woman. But nope, I’ve got rank period farts, too. And I’m (relatively) positive I’m not the only one.
No, I don’t expect you to publicly out yourself as a member of the period fart sisterhood. I’ve got numbers: A 2014 study from researchers at the University of Manitoba in Canada found that 73% of women surveyed experienced at least one gastrointestinal symptom before or during their periods. While abdominal pain and diarrhea are the most common, I think it’s safe to assume farting is also involved.
Abbe Wain, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, says she thinks so, too. Dr. Wain tells me that plenty of patients have complained to her of way worse gas when menstruation is about to start. I basically tripped over myself apologizing for asking Dr. Wain such a silly, nervous question (Why are my period farts so disgusting?) just after she delivered a baby. But she promised me it wasn’t a silly question at all. (Thanks, Dr. Wain!)
Dr. Wain says different theories can explain why period farts plague women. But before we get there, I needed a reminder of why we fart to begin with—and what makes farts smell.
All gassy gals should know that farts are a “healthy, natural, and normal byproduct of digestion,” says Ana Tuyama, MD, a gastroenterologist with Westmed Medical Group in Purchase, New York. (But good luck offering that nugget up to the yogi behind you next time you accidentally let one slip in downward-facing dog.)
Though accidental farting can make you want to die, farts don’t usually mean something's wrong your health—even if they’re stinky. “Smelly gas is usually the result of bacterial fermentation of food/stool matter in the colon,” Dr. Tuyama explains. Totally normal gut bacteria feast on the foods you eat and produce smelly sulfur-containing compounds in the process. “Smelly gas is often associated with consuming a fiber-rich diet that includes foods high in sulfur,” she says. And plenty of the healthiest veggies fall into that category, BTW, so this isn’t a bad thing.
RELATED: 8 Reasons Your Farts Smell so Bad
Now back to period farts. As ovulation approaches—roughly day 13 or 14 of your menstrual cycle—levels of the hormone progesterone begin to rise “in preparation for a possible pregnancy,” explains Texas-based ob-gyn Heather Bartos, MD. During pregnancy, progesterone is known for contributing to a “lazy gut,” Dr. Bartos says, resulting in constipation, burping, and morning sickness.
But if you don’t get pregnant and instead get your period, the GI floodgates open. “It’s not your imagination if you get diarrhea when your period first starts,” Dr. Bartos says. During PMS week, “everything was held in” by progesterone, she says, and now it’s, well, exiting.
Something else is going on that's contributing to all your farting. Compounds called prostaglandins are released when you get your period; they prompt the lining of the uterus to shed, Dr. Wain explains. Prostaglandins cause period cramps and also make smooth muscle “more motile,” she says.
In less doctor-y terms, prostaglandins don’t just make your uterus clench, they also get your colon moving—leading to farts and gotta-go-right-now period poops.
“In the digestive tract, prostaglandins can cause smooth muscle contractions leading to enhanced gastrointestinal pain, distention, and sometimes diarrhea,” Dr. Tuyama says. When prostaglandin production goes up, bloating and farting do, too. (Fun prostaglandin fact: Ibuprofen works against the compound; it’s why Motrin or Advil might help alleviate your cramps.)
RELATED: 8 Reasons Your Poop Smells so Bad
If period farts really plague you, try consuming mostly unprocessed whole foods in the days leading up to tampon time, Dr. Bartos says. “Going cleaner with your diet, gas tends to get better, plant-based foods tend to move better through the system, and you can feel like your symptoms are nearly gone,” she says. It’s probably a good idea to stick to easy-to-digest foods before your period, too. In other words, beans and cauliflower will only make a stinky situation worse.
Please don’t be too embarrassed or too nervous to talk to your doctor if you think a food intolerance or something more serious could be behind your breaking wind. If you’re already a lady with more sensitive intestines than most—say, you have irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease—you may find that menstruation makes things even worse (cruel, cruel world).
If you’re pretty confident you’re dealing with normal albeit revolting period farts, there’s really no reason to do anything about it. As Dr. Bartos wisely puts it: “If you’re not bothered by it, who cares?” Exactly.
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