Periods are one of the great nuisances of life as a woman. The cramps, the moods, the spots. The underwear wreckage, the loo visits, the remembering of tampons every time you leave the house. We could do without it all, frankly. As if all that wasn’t enough, women have started reporting that they sometimes get flu-like symptoms in the week leading up to their period. Anyone who gets chills, nausea, fatigue, weakness, sweats, aches and pains at that time has started referring to it as “period flu”.
In an interview with Brit + Co, Nieca Goldberg, the medical director of NYU Langone’s Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health, explained: “Hormonal changes prior to your period can cause a range of symptoms,” including “fatigue, abdominal cramping, bloating, back pains, and other body aches.”
It’s your oestrogen levels declining that does it, she says. It’s also thanks to prostaglandins, which are hormones released before your period starts to help dislodge your uterine lining. That process can cause some unpleasant symptoms, like diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting and general achiness. The sorts of things you might mistake for being full-on sick.
“Women may feel like they are experiencing mood swings, heightened anxiety, irritability, bloating, tension, trouble concentrating, food cravings and depression before their period,” Dr. Adeeti Gupta, founder of Walk In GYN Care, told Bustle. “Before your period, estrogen levels and progesterone levels can fluctuate suddenly instead of slowly, which is why headaches, nausea and flu-like symptoms may appear.”
It’s worth saying, of course, that you can absolutely get the flu or some other illness while you’re on your period, so if you’re feeling truly disgusting at that time, you should think about going to the doctor. It’s possible it’s what we call “period flu”, but it could also just be the straight-up normal flu. We all reach for the over-the-counter painkillers to relieve period symptoms, but you might need a little extra attention from the doctor if you feel like it could be more than your period.