Many of us have those weird period symptoms – but when does “weird” become “worrisome”?
It’s that time of the month again, but something seems … different. Maybe your cramps are more intense than they usually are, or you’re craving weird foods (and more food in general), or maybe your flow is heavier or lighter than normal.
You also may have noticed changes over time – like excessive pain, irregular bleeding or spotting or heightened emotional responses.
Menstruation, the process during which a person’s uterine lining is shed as part of a cycle that averages about 28 days, is not a one-size-fits-all experience. However, you may find yourself asking the questions – “when do my period symptoms become ‘weird’? And when should I seek a professional opinion?”
What are some common and uncommon period symptoms?
Your period can manifest in several ways, including:
- Abdominal cramps and lower back pain
- Swift changes to your mood or behavior
- Appetite changes (i.e., eating more or less, or craving different foods)
- Breast tenderness
- Headaches and migraines
- Blood clotting
- And more
Periods look different for everyone, and your symptoms can even vary from period to period. A lot of factors can affect how your period presents: your genetics, progesterone and estrogen levels, weight, diet and stress levels can all impact how you experience a period.
Some weird period symptoms are completely normal, like craving chocolate or more heightened physical and emotional responses. Some are more inconvenient, like irregular periods or temporary weight gain, sometimes as a result of a hormone imbalance. However, some symptoms are a bit more troublesome.
Can periods make you feel sick?
Yes. For most women who experience nausea during or before their periods, it’s just a normal part of pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS).
Painful cramps can also cause nausea. If you suffer from dysmenorrhea, which is just a big word for painful cramps, you may also experience nausea. Strong pain in your back, stomach, legs, hips and pelvis can also make you feel like you might throw up.
When should I worry about my period?
Period symptoms move from “weird” to “worrisome” when they start to significantly affect your quality of life. These can include (but are not limited to):
- Significantly heavy flow (soaking a pad or tampon every hour or more often on the heaviest days)
- Bleeding for longer periods of time (generally seven or more days)
- Spotting during times when you aren’t expecting your period
- Missing periods entirely
- Changes in the odor of your period or your period blood
- Abdominal pain with sex, bowel movements or general exercise
- Unusual nausea or vomiting
These could be an indicator of something more serious, like a bleeding disorder, endometriosis, adenomyosis or fibroids.
If your notice more intense psychological symptoms right before your period, like anxiety or depression, this could also be a sign of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), a health problem that is similar to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) but is more serious.
What does PMDD look like?
PMDD can cause severe irritability, depression or anxiety in the days or weeks leading up to your period. While you can also feel physical symptoms of PMDD (added pain, nausea and bloating), common symptoms include:
- Lasting irritability or anger
- Feelings of sadness or despair, or even thoughts of suicide
- Tension, anxiety and panic attacks
- Mood swings or crying often
- Lack of interest in daily activities and relationships
- Trouble thinking or focusing
- Tiredness or low energy
- Food cravings or binge eating
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling out of control
What should I do if I’m worried that my period symptoms are more than just “weird”?
Identifying a problem is the first step in figuring out what may be causing your symptoms. People with periods can sometimes go years before getting help – and they may not even realize that their period symptoms are not normal.
If you’re experiencing period symptoms that are affecting the quality of your daily life, or experience any symptoms you’ve never had before, you should make an appointment with your primary care physician or gynecologist. They can then work with you to identify the cause of your symptoms and work on finding a treatment that works best for you.