Period flu treatment, symptoms and when to see a doctor

Period flu, also called premenstrual syndrome (PMS), can make you uncomfortable. Fortunately, some treatments can help ease the symptoms.

A girl feeling sick and experiencing period flu symptoms

Key takeaways:

  • Period flu is commonly used to describe some symptoms some people experience as their period draws close.
  • Period flu treatment may involve natural remedies like getting enough sleep, engaging in physical activities, and staying hydrated.
  • Different things can cause period flu symptoms, including increased prostaglandin production and changes in female reproductive hormones like estrogen.

When your period is coming, your body signals you by triggering different physiological and chemical reactions, which all lead to a series of unpleasant symptoms. People commonly call these symptoms "period flu".

Period flu is part of a broader clinical health syndrome called premenstrual syndrome (PMS). PMS are complex symptoms, including physical and physiological symptoms experienced by people who menstruate in the days before and during menstruation.

Period flu symptoms usually last two weeks or a few days before the start of your period and get worse two days before the actual day. Symptoms, such as fever, headache, fatigue, nausea, digestive problems, and joint/muscle aches, can range from mild to severe and can sometimes interfere with daily life.

How to treat period flu

Although some people may experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) more severely than others, period flu, as bad as it gets, has remedies that can help. The best part is how doable they are. Most are simple self-care practices.

Here are possible treatments for period flu:

1.Get enough sleep

Getting enough sleep can help reduce period flu symptoms, even during your period. It is important that you get at least 7 hours of sleep. Not getting enough sleep during your period could make you feel more tired, sleepy during the day, and less productive.

If you have difficulties getting enough sleep, here are some tips you should try:

  • Set up a daily bedtime routine. This would help you stick to a regular sleep schedule.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, calm and quiet.
  • Shut off electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed. Do not work or reply to work emails before sleep. This would help keep your mind at peace and induce sleep.
  • Sleep on a comfortable mattress, pillows, and sheets.
  • Avoid foods and drinks high in caffeine and alcohol a few hours before bedtime.
  • Practice mindfulness and deep breathing techniques to help you relax.
  • Take melatonin (sleep-inducing hormone) supplements if your melatonin level is low.

2.Stay hydrated

Hydration can help treat period flu. Drinking enough water reduces the severity of pain most people experience during their periods. How much you eat and drink every day before and during your period can help ease the pain and shorten the bleeding duration.

Before and during your period, your hormones fluctuate a lot. Your estrogen and progesterone levels are low during the period, which causes your body to retain water, making you feel bloated and experience cramps. Drinking at least 7 to 10 cups of water a day during your period helps fight bloating and cramps as it flushes out your system.

3.Eat a balanced, healthy diet

Dietary changes may help manage the symptoms of period flu. Keeping up with the following habits can help you eat well and stay at a healthy weight:

  • Switch to smaller, more frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels steady.
  • Consume a diet rich in vegetables, legumes, whole grains, seafood, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Whole grain foods, such as whole grain bread and brown rice, are good too. Foods rich in calcium, such as yogurt and green leafy vegetables, also help.
  • Cut down on salty, fatty, and sugary foods.
  • Avoid too caffeinated drinks, alcohol, and tobacco.

4.Engage in more physical activities

Exercise can also be beneficial. You can try low-intensity aerobic exercises, such as walking, light jogging, yoga, or light weightlifting. This is a good period flu treatment. It can help reduce period flu symptoms, such as irritability, fatigue, and insomnia.

5.Try pain relievers and hormone medications

Over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, naproxen, ibuprofen, and Tylenol, which are pain relievers, may ease symptoms like aches and pains. These medications offer effective ways of treating period flu. NSAIDs act by blocking the production of prostaglandin, which helps alleviate menstrual cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.

Also, some hormonal birth control methods, such as combined oral contraceptives (estrogen and progestin) or the progestin-only implant or injection, may help ease the pain of menstruation and period flu.

This is because some of these hormone medications stop ovulation, shorten the duration of your period (or may stop it altogether), and reduce the production of prostaglandin—physiologically active compounds that contribute to period flu symptoms.

Symptoms of period flu

Symptoms of period flu vary from person to person. Some people have it worse, while others experience milder symptoms.

Symptoms of period flu include:

  • Constipation and diarrhea
  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Skin breakouts
  • Headache
  • Joint/muscle pain
  • Greasy hair
  • Changes in appetite
  • Breast tenderness
  • Bloating and tender abdomen
  • Tummy pain
  • Feeling irritable, restless, and anxious
  • Backache

Why you experience period flu

Researchers have not determined a primary cause of period flu. However, we know that there are hormones responsible for these symptoms. Your hormones fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle, causing varying symptoms. For instance, the fluctuations of estrogen and serotonin can cause fatigue and insomnia.

Serotonin fluctuates throughout the cycle. Serotonin, also known as the "happy" hormone, is responsible for sleep cycles and food intake. Estrogen is needed for the production of serotonin and is known as a serotonin agonist. It means that when estrogen levels drop, serotonin levels may drop too. This may explain why you experience symptoms like mood swings, fatigue, and an increased appetite days before your period or the first two days of your period.

Another thing that may explain why you experience period flu is a group of lipids called prostaglandins. The body produces prostaglandin to help the uterus shed its lining. They do this by triggering contractions of the uterine muscles. While this is not supposed to cause health issues, when produced in excess, prostaglandin can cause too much contraction of the uterus, leading to period flu symptoms, like cramps.

How to prevent period flu

Some people always experience period flu even after taking measures they believe would prevent it, while others do not experience the symptoms at all. However, whether you experience severe or mild period flu symptoms, there are things you can do to help relieve the symptoms when they occur or reduce their severity.

Some people might need to cut back on sugar, while others may need to increase their fiber-rich fruits and veggie intake. Also, avoiding caffeinated and alcoholic drinks weeks before your period can help because caffeine can worsen anxiety, fatigue, sleep, and cramps for some people. You can stick with eating foods that can help relieve period cramps.

You don't have to wait days for your period to start healthy lifestyle practices. Start being mindful of what you eat and the activities you engage in by regularly exercising, drinking water, and getting enough rest. As much as period flu is common, you can leave a healthier life with less period symptoms by practising these tips.

When to see a doctor for period flu symptoms

Sometimes the flu-like symptoms you experience are your body's way of telling you you're about to get your period. However, you should see a healthcare professional if you have additional symptoms like a sore throat, runny nose, fever, or other symptoms that look like a cold or flu.

Also, consult a doctor if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

  • Your symptoms are more severe and unbearable.
  • After your period, the symptoms persist, even with the treatments and remedies.
  • You're experiencing mental instability, anxiety, depression, or thoughts of self-harm.

Your doctor will diagnose you properly and recommend treatments tailored to your health needs. Ideally, if what you experience is part of PMS, the symptoms will disappear after your menstrual flow.

Also, before you decide to take supplements for period symptoms, talk to your doctor about which supplement is suitable, possible side effects, and drug interactions.

References

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2020). Dysmenorrhea: painful periods
  2. Suni, E. (2022). How much sleep do we really need?
  3. McOsker, K. (2021). Hormonal Balance and the Female Brain
  4. National Health Service. (2021). PMS (Premenstrual syndrome)
  5. Pratyusha, R. G., and Gyanendra, K. S. (2022). Premenstrual Syndrome