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How Menstrual Cycles Affect IBS and What You Can Do to Help

Updated: Mar 9

For many menstruating women struggling with IBS, symptoms get worse at certain times of their cycle. Some women may not even recognise these patterns unless they have spent time tracking their symptoms alongside their cycle.

As if we didn’t have enough to deal with, GI symptoms on top of the ups and downs that come with fluctuating hormones throughout the month can be incredibly frustrating for any menstruating woman.

This blog will cover the reasons hormones can increase IBS symptoms, and provide some tips for identifying these patterns and what you can do to reduce symptoms if you struggle with this.

How Menstrual Cycles Impact Gut Health

Bloating, abdominal discomfort and changes to bowel motions just before your period is due, and during your period is common and to some extent, normal.

For those with IBS, these symptoms can be greatly exacerbated for longer periods of time than for those who don’t struggle with IBS. Typically, symptoms will be worse from mid cycle/when ovulation occurs, to the end of your period, and sex hormone fluctuations play a big role in this.

Estrogen is usually at its peak just before ovulation, while progesterone is at its peak during the luteal phase — the phase between ovulation and the onset of menstruation. But these hormones drop to the lowest levels just before the period begins.

Both estrogen and progesterone control smooth muscle contractions in the intestines, affecting how quickly food travels in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. During menstruation, some women tend to have abdominal pain, and some have diarrhea. Many of these GI-related disturbances are linked to the actions of female sex hormones.

Beyond pain and loose bowel motions, Increased constipation during the luteal phase is a common annoyance, especially for those who already deal with IBS or other gut issues.

Progesterone is the main driver for this. After ovulation progesterone is at its highest, and it causes muscles in your digestive tract to relax which reduces bowel motility, leading to constipation. Constipation will then increase bloating, which is not ideal as bloating and water retention during the week leading up to your period is already ve