Mother Nature’s monthly gift is limiting your outfit choices yet again.
No matter how hard you pull at the seams, regardless of how much you suck in, your favorite pair of jeans just won’t fit.
Abdominal swelling, bags under your eyes and other unpleasant indicators can be quite frustrating for every woman! The term for this is swelling or bloating, a common symptom of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
It feels like we're swelling everywhere roughly one to two weeks before menses, depending on your personal cycle. While you may certainly feel bloated from head to toe, the most common areas to swell are the breasts, face, abdomen, legs, ankles, and feet.
Whether you experience PMS or not, bloating before the period can become a really nasty problem at times. Let’s dive into the nature of this process to learn why exactly the swelling happens.
Is it normal?
So, is this extreme discomfort normal?
Yes. Not only is it normal to experience bloating from your menstrual cycle – it is estimated that on average, 8 out of 10 women share this recurrent anguish.
Bloating is a common early symptom of menstruation that many women experience. It may feel like you’ve gained weight or like your abdomen or other parts of your body are tight or even swollen.
You’ll likely experience bloating well before the start of your period. About 5 days before your period, the feeling of bloating increases, and then is at its peak on the first day of a monthly period.
You may bloat every month, once in a while, or not at all. Relief from bloating may occur immediately after you start your period or a few days into it.
The mechanism explained
A lot of the bloating symptoms are caused by water retention that is increased by hormonal changes associated with the menstrual cycle, doctors explain. So, once again, the short answer is hormones.
In the lead up to menstruation, our levels of sex hormones – progesterone and estrogen – are a bit all over the place.
Lowered levels of progesterone are basically what causes our bodies to start bleeding, but these hormone changes are also thought to be the leading cause of why our stomachs feel so bloated and full around this time.
PMS occurs during the final phase of your menstrual cycle. That’s when the hormones estrogen and progesterone can fluctuate. It’s also when the lining of your uterus gets thicker.
If you become pregnant, the fertilized egg attaches to your thickened uterine lining. If you’re not pregnant, the thickened lining leaves your body, and you have a period.
At the end of your cycle when you're about to get your period, if you haven't gotten pregnant, what usually happens is the progesterone and estrogen levels plummet.
About a week before a woman's period starts, levels of the hormone progesterone fall. Research suggests that changes in progesterone and estrogen levels cause the body to retain more water and salt. The body's cells become swollen with water, causing the feeling of bloating and/or a swollen abdomen. Increased blood flow to the uterus can cause uterine swelling, which also leads to a bloated abdomen.
Relief from the feeling of bloating happens immediately after the start of monthly periods or a few days into it. As your period days pass by, the water retention declines rapidly and your tummy becomes flattened and the feeling of bloating vanishes.
Not just the hormones
Hormones may not be the only reason you have physical symptoms leading up to your period, experts note. Other causes for your symptoms may relate to your genes, the type and amount of vitamins and minerals you take, your diet, especially if it’s high in salt, and the number of drinks and foods you have with caffeine of alcohol.
Dehydration can also cause water retention before (and sometimes during) your period. When the body needs to keep more fluid, it retains water to counter dehydration.
A study conducted in 2010 showed that these hormone changes can cause more water and salt retention in the abdomen, meaning that the swollen feeling is actually due to a build-up of fluid and salts rather than the fact that we've just eaten an entire container of Ben & Jerry's.
As it turns out though, it could also be because of that too – grim, we know.
Our old friend stress can have an impact on the digestive system, which can often be a symptom of PMS and affect you during your period. Which is unsurprising we tend to reach for carb-rich comfort food during this stage in the cycle, which adds to an already sluggish digestive system.
Low levels of serotonin tend to make us want to stuff our faces with things like chocolate, chips, and whatever unhealthy crap we can find at a gas station at 11 pm. This (you guessed it) makes us bloat.
Mild to moderate bloating that begins before your period and goes away soon after your period starts is generally nothing to worry about. As long as you’re able to function normally and your symptoms occur around your period, most likely all you need to do to reduce the symptoms is try some lifestyle modifications.
However, if you have more severe bloating that gets in the way of your daily activities, talk to your doctor.