Most women experience minor symptoms just before and during their periods.

It is normal to experience some degree of discomfort in the days leading up to your period and for the first day or two of bleeding, although some fortunate women have no discomfort. For most women, these symptoms, while annoying, are easily managed and do not interfere with day-to-day living.

What are common symptoms of menstruation?

Most women experience mild symptoms in the few days leading up to menstruation and in the first day or two of menstruating when the flow of blood is heavier. There are over a hundred symptoms that have been attributed to menstruation, and these may change over time and from cycle to cycle. Normally, discomforts associated with menstruation should be manageable enough that you can carry on with your normal life. However, for some women, symptoms are so severe that it becomes difficult to carry out the normal tasks of daily life.

Here are some of the normal physical symptoms of menstruation:

  • Tender breasts
  • Bloating, fluid retention
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Acne
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Lower back pain
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Low energy, fatigue

Painful symptoms such as cramps, backache, and tender breasts can usually be relieved by over-the-counter, anti-inflammatory pain relievers such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Prescription medications (such as Ponstan) are also available. Warm baths or compresses can be useful to alleviate cramping. Constipation can make the cramps far more intense, and the hormones in the latter half of the menstrual cycle do increase constipation. Plenty of fluids, high fibre foods or a simple bulk forming stool softener such as psyllium can relieve pain. If you are finding that your periods are difficult to manage, or they seem worse than what is described, it is time to see your doctor.

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)

PMS encompasses a range of emotional and physical symptoms experienced by women in the days leading up to the onset of menstruation. Feelings of irritability, food cravings, and mood swings are common mood-related symptoms. More information on PMS is found here.

Menstruation and quality of life

The symptoms of menstruation can affect your quality of life. It’s important to take note of whether your period is impacting any aspects of your life.  Talk to your doctor if your period is causing you to:

  • Miss work or school
  • Not be able to participate in activities that you usually enjoy
  • Struggle to carry out your usual daily activities
  • Accomplish less than you would like to
  • Have difficulty in your relationships with your family or friends
  • Have severe pain
  • Feel very blue
  • Lack energy or feel very fatigued
  • Not exercise when you normally do
  • Choose not to go out when you normally would