16 Period Questions You Were Too Timid To Ask, Answered By An OB-GYN
"Bowel movements during periods — is that cramps?"
We asked the BuzzFeed Community what period questions they had for gynecologists that they were too timid to ask, and they came through with some really great ones! So we reached out to Dr. Jennifer Lincoln, a board-certified OB-GYN, to see if she'd be willing to give us her medical insight. Lucky for us, she had some brilliant answers.
1. "What do I do if I feel uncomfortable at doctors appointments? I know that they are just looking out for my health and no one is judging me. It just makes me really uncomfortable, especially on my period."
Dr. Lincoln: "It's true that we really aren't judging you. As an OB-GYN, this is just our everyday and really nothing shocks us. If you feel embarrassed or concerned, by all means it is OK to let us know you are feeling nervous and we can figure out ways to make the appointment and exam less stressful. You definitely can come see us when on your period, but if you don't prefer that, it's always OK to reschedule too!"
2. "Why do I experience an increase in appetite in the first two days, and why do I mostly crave sugary treats? I’ve always wanted to ask a gynecologist, but I’m already overweight and I’m too scared."
Dr. Lincoln: "With fluctuations in hormones, we can sometimes crave different foods. It's totally OK to listen to what your body is wanting, as most things in moderation aren't an issue. If a doctor ever calls you greedy or treats you inferior because of your weight, though — time to find a new doctor!"
3. "Why is my period six days one week, seven days the next, eight the next and then six? Yes I am still young, but is it normal for this to happen?"
Dr. Lincoln: "A little variation is totally normal. The thickness of the uterine lining — what you are shedding each month — isn't always going to be exactly the same. That, combined with your activity, variation in the amount of prostaglandins that lead to the uterine contractions that help the blood flow — it can all lead to a little variation in the length of your cycle. However, if you are constantly bleeding a heavy flow for seven days or more, it is a good time to chat with your OB-GYN so we can see what might be going on."
4. "What does it mean to have period cramps and pains 1–2 days before your period actually starts?"
Dr. Lincoln: "That is pretty typical. This happens because your uterus is starting to cramp and contract to expel menstrual blood. It could also be your intestines causing the cramping as they can act up a bit around the time of your period too (this is why period poops are a thing!) in relation to the hormones and chemical messengers released around your period. If it's really bothersome or making you miss school or work, you should be seen to make sure it isn't something like endometriosis or uterine fibroids."
5. "I hate how there's so few pics of clots. Like I feel like I don't have them. I just have blood mixed with normal vagina discharge. Or is that what a clot is?"
Dr. Lincoln: "A clot is blood that has come together or coagulated. Some people see them during their period, while others don't. If you want to see examples of some, a quick Google search can show you (but you've been warned, some people don't like looking at them!)"
6. "Does anyone else get really dizzy during their first day, covered in sweat, lots of blood and where they physically can’t do anything? I’m anemic so it might just be that, but I have to lay down on the floor it hurts so bad."
Dr. Lincoln: "Those symptoms make me worried you are having a bit too much bleeding and like you mentioned, you may be anemic. If you are experiencing this level of distress during your period, a visit with your doctor is a great next step to see what's going on and what we can do to get you back to feeling better!"
7. "How much pain is normal during your period?"
Dr. Lincoln: "How people experience periods definitely varies. My baseline is if you can't go to work or school, or you do but you are physically miserable, that's too much and we need to help you feeling functional again. Endometriosis is definitely something that can cause these symptoms, as well as other issues like uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, or pelvic floor muscle pain. We have options to treat all of these, so don't put off seeing your doctor if you are suffering!"
8. "Bowel movements during periods — is that cramps? Is it the same? Some girls say their uterus hurts, while I always feel like it's my stomach that hurts. Is it normal?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Intestinal cramps and change in bowel movements during your period can definitely happen. Some will have diarrhea, while others feel bloated or constipated. If it is making you miserable, it could be something like irritable bowel syndrome and is worth letting your doctor know. If not, making sure you are getting in enough movement and exercise while staying hydrated and eating a varied diet can certainly help milder symptoms while on your period."
9. "Is there any truth to different blood colors meaning different things for your health? (Light = dehydrated, brownish = sick, etc.)"
Dr. Lincoln: "Nope! 100% no. The people who have popularized this concept often sell supplements to address your alleged 'hormonal imbalance.' There's no science to it."
10. "Is period underwear safe?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Yes! When used as directed, it is a great option for period hygiene. And you can't beat the benefit to the environment."
11. "Why do all my joints feel wobbly and dislocate easily when I'm on my period? Is there something hormonal that affects joints as well as the other lovely side effects like greasy hair, bigger boobs, and mood changes?"
Dr. Lincoln: "I can't say I have heard of an association like that, but I am not an expert in joint or soft tissues disorders like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. It may be that changing progesterone and estrogen levels play a role, but I'd have to defer to the experts on this one!"
12. "Why does my period tend to cause me diarrhea? Why does my period cause foot cramps? Why does my lower back hurt on my period?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Prostaglandins! The same chemical messengers that cause your uterus to contract are the same that cause your intestines to contract and can lead to diarrhea. I'm not sure why your feet might hurt other than being dehydrated and having muscle cramps from that, so hydrating might be worth a try. Low back pain during a period can be from the uterus (especially if it is tilted back, which is a normal but less common position), though it could be a sign of endometriosis or fibroids if it's rather bothersome."
13. "What color is period blood supposed to be?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Often it changes depending on where you are on your cycle. Spotting at the beginning may be light pink to bright red, while the main flow is often bright red. Blood turns brown or black when it is exposed to oxygen, so towards the end of your period these colors are normal as that older blood has had more exposure. All are normal!"
14. "Does your age affect your period?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Yes! In the first few years of your period irregular is the norm: your cycle can be inconsistent as your brain-ovary-uterus communication matures. It tends to normalize for quite a while until you get closer to menopause, which is often in the early 50s for most women."
15. "Do hormones in food affect our periods?"
Dr. Lincoln: "We don't really have any good studies that would confirm this, so at this time I would say not — but it's always with the caveat that as we learn more that may change. I truly believe we always have to think about dose: when it comes to eating many foods, for example, the exposure level to which we would be concerned would be a ridiculous amount of food (for example, when we talk about concerning pesticide levels in just celery we would have to eat 27,000 servings to consume an amount that could make us ill)."
16. "For the most part, the first day of my period usually involves cramps and no nausea. But sometimes, on the first day of my period, I end up getting nauseous and vomiting. Is this normal?"
Dr. Lincoln: "Variation is normal, but I always tell my patients if you are throwing up every period there is no need to suffer — we can help with that!"