period flu

Period Flu - What causes period flu, Symptoms & Treatment

Many of you may have heard about a thing called the ‘period flu’. While not a medical term, the period flu can be used to describe the body’s response to the shedding of the uterine line, symptoms of which often resemble that of real flu. Read on to find out more.


What is Period flu?

Not to be confused with an actual disease, the period flu is more of a reaction of the body to the entire happenings of menstruation. The symptoms can range from headache, nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea and even a slight temperature.


How does period flu happen?

The main reason for the period flu is the hormonal fluctuation that the body undergoes during your cycle. The rising levels of progesterone can interfere with the brain’s chemical messengers, termed as neurotransmitters, causing a drop in serotonin levels. This creates a lot of symptoms of the flu.

Further, while estrogen levels drop, a rise in hormone-like fatty acids called prostaglandins takes place. They have a high inflammation level and are responsible for causing contractions in the uterus that are necessary to shed its lining. But, they can also stimulate the same response in the intestines, causing diarrhoea and flu-like symptoms. 

The change in hormones also leads to increased production of small proteins called cytokines (which are normally present inside the uterine cavity) throughout the body. This further adds to the inflammation that causes these symptoms.

The body’s immune response is not only triggered by invading pathogens but also when there are dead or damaged cells. And here, period flu is not caused by a real virus but the dying and damaged endometrium cells that are shed by the body during periods. This also can give rise to flu-like symptoms.

But, apart from internal factors, there are several external factors that can contribute to the period flu symptoms as well. Cravings are a common part of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and people can increase their salt or sugar intake during this time, which can lead to both inflammation and water retention, causing joint aches.


Why does it NOT happen to some?

It is now established that the period flu is caused by not one, but a combination of factors. While some people experience extreme hormonal fluctuations, others may not go through such severe shifts. Also, some people may have better immune systems than others, leading to their bodies reacting better to the dying cells.

Further, some women maintain a healthier lifestyle and diet, which reduces both PMS and period flu symptoms. Refraining from salty and sugary foods and opting for a healthier diet can do wonders.


Symptoms of Period flu

The symptoms are quite varied and can include:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Slight temperature or chills
  • Joint and muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhoea
  • Fatigue
  • Cramps
  • Bloating

How long does it last?

Generally, they last for about 2 weeks from the onset of ovulation if you have a 28-day cycle on average. The symptoms ease once the period begins, and go away by the end of it. If you have hit menopause, you won’t get period flu symptoms any longer.

How can you differentiate between period flu and COVID-19?

There are some symptoms that overlap in the case of the period flu and COVID-19. These can be:

  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Fatigue
  • Diarrhoea

Monitor your cycles to check if you get symptoms around the time of your period each month. This can indicate the period flu. But, there is no sure-shot way of guaranteeing that it is the flu and not COVID. The only way is to get a test and confirm if you are suspecting the coronavirus.

Can you prevent it?

There are several things you can do to prevent or at least reduce the period flu symptoms:

  • Regular exercise - According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, exercise, particularly aerobics, has shown to improve or alleviate period flu symptoms.
  • Healthy diet - Manage PMS Cravings. Refraining from giving into salty and sugary cravings can reduce water retention and inflammation, both of which can reduce joint and muscle aches. Try to incorporate more foods rich in calcium and vitamin B-6, as they can ease the symptoms.
  • Give up smoking - Smoking is shown to increase PMS symptoms. Quitting can help with the period flu symptoms that cause you distress.
  • Adequate sleep - Less sleep can give rise to compulsive eating, cravings and headache, all of which can worsen the period flu symptoms.

What are your treatment options?

Treatment options are varied and can be opted for to treat the period flu symptoms. They can include:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medication - You can opt for painkillers or muscle relaxants to lessen joint and muscle pain.
  • Heating pads or cramp relief patches - You can use electric heating pads, hot water bottles or the more convenient Carmesi Cramp Relief Air Activated Heat Patches to relieve aches and cramps. These do not require any electricity or water and are extremely travel-friendly.
  • Diarrhoea medication - If the loose motions get out of hand, you can opt for diarrhoea medication for relief from nausea or stomach upset.
  • Staying hydrated - It is very important to keep yourself hydrated to relieve headaches and reduce cravings.

When should you see a doctor?

While the period flu is nothing to worry about and goes away on its own, you should reach out to a healthcare professional if the symptoms become unbearable or stay for longer than usual. Also, if you suspect it is COVID-19, seek out a test immediately and follow a doctor’s plan to remain safe and healthy.

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