The 'Period Flu' Could Be Causing Your Monthly Cycle Sickness - Here's What To Know

As if cramping and bleeding weren't taxing enough to deal with every month, it turns out that some women also experience a phenomenon known as "period flu," in addition to all the other uncomfortable side effects of the menstrual cycle. The symptoms of period flu mimic the common signs of the regular flu or influenza, but it feels as if your body is habitually fighting off a virus around the time of menstruation. 


While many women typically experience headaches and nausea leading up to their period, which is commonly known as pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), those with period flu report symptoms that begin after ovulation, around two weeks before menstruation begins, per WebMD. These flu-like symptoms include muscle aches, headaches, nausea, runny noses, and sore throats. Women also report vomiting, fatigue, low-grade fever, and digestive issues, such as diarrhea or constipation. If these symptoms sound familiar, period flu may be to blame.

The cause behind period flu

Period flu is not yet categorized as a diagnosable medical condition. People who experience period flu symptoms may, therefore, feel alone in their struggle. Many who have visited a medical professional may also feel that their concerns were brushed off or misdiagnosed due to a general lack of knowledge concerning cycle-related symptoms. Most often, doctors group period flu with pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS) despite reports where symptoms occur before, during, and even after menstruation (via WebMD). 


So, unfortunately, little is known about this phenomenon. Though, according to Dr. Jolene Brighten, NMD, experts believe that it has something to do with the hormonal fluctuations that occur throughout certain stages of the cycle. Aside from the rise and fall of both estrogen and progesterone levels during your cycle which typically causes fatigue, a compound called prostaglandin also plays a major role in the menstrual cycle. Your body releases prostaglandins at the beginning of your period to trigger uterine contractions which encourage shedding of the womb lining, and may also result in diarrhea and period cramps, per Health

In large amounts, prostaglandins cause an increase in body temperature and inflammation, both of which contribute to flu-like symptoms such as low-grade fever and lethargy. These nasty buggers are also the main culprit of heavy menstrual bleeding during your period (via You and Your Hormones). 


Other factors that contribute to symptoms

In some cases, your flu-like symptoms may be a sign of underlying health issues whose symptoms overlap with period flu. For instance, endometriosis shares similar side effects such as nausea, fatigue, and digestive issues (via the Mayo Clinic). This condition occurs when cells from the uterine lining grow outside the uterus, affecting the fallopian tubes, bowels, or ovaries. The invading cells irritate the tissues and often cause mild to severe pain.


Lifestyle habits that affect female hormones must also be considered, according to Forbes Health. Specifically, take a look at your diet, physical activity levels, and sleep hygiene. High-sugar diets that consist of large amounts of fried and processed food contribute to hormone imbalances, which may aggravate symptoms of period flu. Leading a stationary lifestyle will also affect your hormones, as fitness and nutrition consultant Jenni Rivett explains to Byrdie that "exercise has a powerful effect on balancing, suppressing, and increasing certain hormones." Poor sleep also affects hormone regulation and increases the severity of symptoms, per WebMD.

Note that if your monthly sickness appears to have started out of the blue, then consider taking a pregnancy test as early signs of pregnancy sometimes manifest as flu-like symptoms, per Rael.


How is it diagnosed?

There is no way for doctors to clinically diagnose period flu, but it's possible to rule out conditions with overlapping symptoms. If you are unsure if what you feel during your cycle could result from period flu, then make an appointment with a medical professional who may recommend diagnostic tests if they deem it necessary. Standard tools to diagnose pelvic conditions include a blood test, pelvic ultrasound, physical examination, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), per Mayo Clinic. A laparoscopy may also be necessary if your doctor suspects your symptoms coincide with endometriosis, which requires a surgical procedure for an accurate diagnosis.


While not clinically diagnosable, that does not mean that your struggles with cycle sickness are invalid. If your doctor gives you the all-clear and your symptoms remain unassociated with a known medical condition, then it's likely that you are, in fact, dealing with the period flu. If your doctor does not treat your experience seriously, seek support from another health professional for another opinion.

How to treat symptoms

No definitive treatment exists for this phenomenon but, thankfully, certain lifestyle changes will make it easier to manage day-to-day life while experiencing period sickness. First, track your symptoms during each phase of your cycle and observe the onset, duration, and severity to help you understand the patterns.


Implement consistent habits designed to help you regulate your hormones by addressing sleep, exercise, and diet. Healthy sleep hygiene is critical for hormone regulation, so put yourself to bed on time and aim for seven to eight hours of sleep per night (via Forbes Health). Improving your sleep also makes it easier for you to emotionally manage the consequences of period flu, as regularly struggling with symptoms that get in the way of everyday activities takes a toll on your mental well-being. 

"Research shows that exercising can also be very helpful, [including] low-intensity aerobic exercises, such as walking, light jogging, yoga, or light weightlifting," New York-based OB-GYN Dr. Juliet Nevins tells Forbes. "Exercising might be helpful as it reduces (period flu) symptoms, such as irritability and insomnia." But don't overdo it as over-exerting your body will, conversely, affect hormone regulation, especially during your period when your body naturally requires more rest, according to HealthyWomen.


Control your consumption of sugary, fried, and processed foods, while limiting alcohol, as these increase inflammation, per Forbes Health. Also, consider supplementing any nutrient deficiencies by eating nutrient-dense foods or taking supplements. Your doctor may also recommend pain-relief medications, oral contraceptives, or other hormone treatments.

Create a support system

As with many conditions that only menstruating individuals tend to experience, the lack of awareness and understanding of cycle-related symptoms can translate into a lack of empathy from medical professionals, friends, or family. At the same time, surrounding yourself with supportive individuals will make it easier to navigate daily activities when you feel unwell.


Dedicating time and effort to building a healthy lifestyle will require you to make significant changes — in some cases — so take care to surround yourself with people who will stick by you as you implement these changes. If you feel disappointed with the lack of support from your doctor or the people in your life, understand that there are others who also struggle with recurring cycle sickness. Seek help elsewhere, such as online forums or local support groups, to share your experiences with people who understand and discuss treatments or remedies to alleviate symptoms.

When to seek help

Experiencing body aches, fevers, and fatigue on a regular basis will, inevitably, affect your emotional well-being. It is important to feel seen and understood by your loved ones, especially when you feel overwhelmed. Period sickness often makes it difficult to carry on with your daily tasks, so if you feel chronically depressed then it may be time to reach out to a counselor who will provide you with the necessary mental tools in which to equip yourself during times of low mood or anxiety.


Unfortunately, feelings of depression are common where fluctuating hormones are concerned, as hormones influence the brain's serotonin levels (via Health). These neurotransmitters influence your mood, so it's normal to feel down in the dumps at certain phases of your cycle. This is all the more reason to establish a reliable support system, keep up a stable routine, and learn how to help yourself when you feel upset or anxious.

The same applies to managing your physical period flu symptoms which may include debilitating side effects such as fever, vomiting, or pain. If any of your symptoms escalate and begin to seriously interfere with your work or personal responsibilities, then reach out to a doctor to discuss more sustainable treatment options.


If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.