Here’s what we’re going to cover
- How Does IBS Affect Periods?
- IBS and Ovulation: Can IBS Delay or Stop Your Period?
- Can IBS Feel Like Ovary or Pelvic Pain?
IBS can affect your period, and your period can affect IBS. It’s a two-way street.
Your period does not cause IBS (click here for more info about IBS symptoms), but it can make it worse if you already have a weak or compromised digestive system. Even a healthy menstrual cycle can impact IBS. Like everything in the body, there is a connection.
IBS, on the other hand, can change your menstrual cycle. Your period is one of the key barometers of your overall health. Our body is very smart this way. It knows that being pregnant requires optimal health because it is a major strain on your body’s resources. And it knows that everything needs to be functioning at a high level so that a healthy baby can be developed and delivered. And the regularity and health of your period are one of the ways it tells you that you’re healthy, whether or not you want to have a baby.
How Does IBS Affect Periods?
IBS is a condition that affects how you digest your food. And it follows that how well you digest your food affects how well you assimilate the nutrients that are in that food. This means that the health of every cell in your body is impacted by your digestion.
Another way that IBS affects you is that IBS involves inflammation. Inflammation is the underlying factor in most health conditions. And if inflammation is being triggered in your digestive tract, then it is likely affecting other parts of your body, including your uterus and your period.
A healthy and regular period is a sign from your body that everything is functioning well and that all systems go and are ready for a pregnancy. IBS may lead your body to determine that all systems are not going, and therefore lead to changes in your menstrual cycle.
IBS and Ovulation: Can IBS Delay or Stop Your Period?
As mentioned earlier, IBS can trigger inflammation and impact your ability to extract nutrients from your food. Keeping this in mind and knowing that your period is a direct reflection of the health of your body, it’s not difficult to understand that your period may be delayed or even stop.
It is well understood that women who exercise a great deal or push their bodies to the limit may have irregular periods or stop experiencing their periods altogether. Their nutrient requirements are so high for their activity level that their body recognizes that it is not ready to carry a pregnancy.
The same type of reaction can happen less intentionally, in this case when your digestion is so poor that it is generating inflammation and is not providing adequate nutrients. (This should not be confused with your weight. You don’t have to be underweight to be undernourished.)
This of course will affect fertility and your ability to get pregnant too, because if you don’t have a period, then you aren’t ovulating. In these cases, when IBS is solved, women often notice that their period becomes much more regular and much healthier.
Can IBS Feel Like Ovary or Pelvic Pain?
People often think that the location of abdominal pain can point to the underlying organ or problem from where the pain is emanating. Sometimes it can. However, the organs inside the abdomen significantly overlap each other and are incredibly close to each other. They are literally all squished together.
Abdominal pain associated with IBS can be anywhere in the abdomen – high, low, central, or on either side. This happens because the intestinal tract is some twenty-seven feet long and winds all over the abdominal area. So the location of IBS pain can be anywhere.
For this reason, IBS pain can feel like ovarian pain, and ovarian pain may be misdiagnosed as IBS. The same is true for pelvic pain, which although very low in the abdomen, can also be IBS pain. (There are many other causes of pain in the abdomen. This is not a conclusive list.)
IBS can also contribute to PMS. This can be due to either cramping or inflammation with IBS that impact the uterus.
The reverse also can occur. When you have your period, your uterus is contracting. This pain may trigger IBS pain in the nearby intestinal tract, making your IBS worse. Many women report that their IBS pain is related to their period.
But remember that there is likely another reason that your intestinal tract is susceptible to this happening, and that it is not likely that your period is the sole cause of your IBS pain. If it were, then every woman would have IBS when they have their period and that is not the case.
In summary, there are two major ways in which IBS can affect your period and your fertility. One is the poor digestion and absorption of nutrients. If this is not optimal, then you are less likely to have a regular period or ovulation. The other is regarding pain and inflammation. If you have a significant amount of abdominal pain or inflammation as part of your IBS, then you may not have regular periods. In either case, your body may be telling you that it is not ready to carry a healthy pregnancy.
IBS can continue to affect your health in other ways during your pregnancy, and even later in life during menopause. So it’s important to figure out if you have IBS.
Fortunately, there is good news for IBS sufferers. IBS is readily treatable if you work with an IBS Specialist (not to be confused with a Gastroenterologist). And once you solve your IBS, your periods are much more likely to return to normal. This of course means that IBS can also affect fertility, because once your period is regular, then you are more likely to become pregnant.
How is IBS affecting your quality of life?
Dr. Wangen is the founder and medical director of the IBS Treatment Center, the award winning author of two books, and a nationally recognized speaker on digestive disorders. He has been on ABC, NBC, and Fox as well as public radio, and was named one of Seattle’s Top Doctors by Seattle Magazine.