Menstrual indigestion is a lesser-known aspect of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) which is often overlooked as regular indigestion. During a period, there is a decline in the production of the hormone progesterone, which leads to the inflammation of the uterus. Progesterone is a hormone that increases immediately after ovulation and decreases slowly until its levels drop enough to trigger menstruation.
The main symptoms that progesterone (and oestrogen) cause are bloating, gas, and constipation. This is secondary to the slowing or quieting effect on the contractility of the smooth muscle of the digestive tract that progesterone causes. This assists in the breaking of the endometrial lining in the uterus. The endometrial lining thickens during ovulation to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and sheds when the fertilisation of the egg (formed in the ovaries) does not take place.
This shedding comes out through the vagina in as blood and is referred to as the period. Pro-inflammatory chemical messengers called glandins then act on the uterus. This triggers white blood cells called leukocytes to activate, helping the tissue break down. Then the period occurs.
During this shedding of the endometrial lining, the body also observes a drop in the hormones prostaglandins, oestrogen, and progesterone, and this is supposed to be responsible for gastro-intestinal issues both before and during menstruation.
Symptoms of menstrual indigestion
While menstruation-related gastro-intestinal issues are not something all menstruators experience, those who do may experience bloating, cramping, diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, and gas as a result of this, in addition to other symptoms such as period cramps, backaches, fatigue, etc., around the time of their period.
In some individuals, it is observed that this indigestion is particularly caused by fluctuations in hormone levels in the body as the body prepares itself for the period. Often, abdominal pain follows these symptoms.
Also read: Premenstrual Syndrome: PMS Is Not About ‘Bad Moods’ That Can Be Dismissed Easily
In some instances, menstruation-related acid refluxes can be induced by certain foods, which might not otherwise cause trouble. For those who are not aware of the condition, suddenly witnessing these symptoms might not be a pleasant experience. The reason for the acid reflux is yet again hormone fluctuations taking place in the space between the oesophagus and stomach, called the oesophageal sphincter.
The changes in hormones are believed to cause the sphincter to relax. Due to the acidic environment in the stomach, the relaxation of the oesophageal sphincter causes the contents in the stomach to enter the oesophagus, causing the burning sensation or heartburn.
There is no particular cause for menstrual indigestion and regular indigestion can sometimes overlap with menstrual cycles as well. However, it was observed in a study that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) experience more discomfort and pain leading up to their period, and have a higher risk of developing this condition.
Ways to tackle menstrual indigestion
Drinking water and fluids, in general, is recommended when someone is down with diarrhoea to prevent dehydration. It is also suggested to avoid dairy products during an upset stomach. If individuals face discomfort for longer than two days, it is recommended to visit a doctor and understand the condition better as the doctor might suggest over-the-counter medications to ease the individual of their discomfort.
Since the condition is driven predominantly by changes in hormones and chemicals in each individual’s body, it is difficult to arrive at a rigid preventive mechanism, since these symptoms may differ with each cycle as well. Some doctors suggest individuals maintain a journal where they trace their symptoms to understand patterns and prepare for their next cycle.
Period applications also provide predictions and dietary recommendations for individuals with recorded data. However, with privacy issues emerging around period tracking applications concerning data breaches, individuals will have to be weary while accessing these applications.
As it is, menstruation and the associated discomfort are often overlooked, resulting in improper access to medical care. Within this, menstrual indigestion is mostly misunderstood and misdiagnosed as being a regular form of indigestion, often not receiving adequate care and attention.
Menstrual indigestion is also different from regular indigestion since it is sometimes accompanied by mood swings and period cramps, making it extremely painful and uncomfortable for the menstruator. This condition might not be adequately resolved by regular medications taken for indigestion and will require professional medical input.
Also read: PMS And PMDD: What Do We Know And How Can We Support Others?
Featured Image: Ritika Banerjee for Feminism In India