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Ask the Expert: Your Top Period Questions Answered

Janelle King MPH, BSN, RN

Posted on October 19 2018

As a sexual health nurse, there aren’t many questions that I haven’t been asked, like what’s trichomoniasis? Is it normal to smell “down there”?’ Are Brazilian waxes safe? The question that seems to come up most often is usually related to period problems and honestly, I love them! I mean, nothing is more rewarding than teaching women about their bodies and reproductive health. I know; not all women feel comfortable discussing these issues with their healthcare provider and often seek out Google for answers. Look, there is nothing wrong with doing that occasionally, but with conflicting information, it can be a little confusing and may leave you feeling a tad bit overwhelmed. But don’t worry, we’ve done the research and come up with the answers to some of your most pressing period questions.

Are there any natural ways to treat my PMS symptoms?

Let’s face it, the physical and emotional symptoms of PMS can take their toll but you’re not alone. Almost 40 percent of women reported having issues like irritability, breast tenderness, bloating, and breakouts 5 to 7 days before their periods. There are a number of remedies you can try to help keep your symptoms at bay. First thing first, exercise! Working out at least 30 minutes a day most days of the week helps you relax and it’s a great way to relieve stress. A recent study reported that women who engaged in 20 minutes of aerobic exercises like walking or swimming three times a week for 8 weeks had less PMS symptoms like headaches,nausea,and constipation.

Ever tried alternative relaxation therapies? You may also want to consider it. A study published in the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine reported that women using acupuncture and herbal medicines for premenstrual syndrome reduced their symptoms by 50 percent.

Also, the importance of sleep can’t be overstated, so don’t cheat yourself! Women with PMS had poorer sleep quality, unrefreshing sleep, and more insomnia, yikes! Maintaining regular sleep habits like a bedtime routine and a regular sleep schedule (yes, even on the weekends)may help you overcome fatigue, crankiness and other symptoms.

Finally, make sure you are eating healthy, balanced meals. Sure, you may want to devour an entire bag of chips or eat a gallon of rocky-road ice cream but the research actually suggests taking in more complex carbohydrates to improve yoursymptoms. Adding complex carbohydrate like whole wheat bread, pasta, and cereals or as dietsupplement can actually decrease the emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms of PMS. Yes ladies, grab an apple instead.

Can my period really sync with my gal pals?

The first published study about menstrual synchrony(a fancy way of saying women’s periods happening at the same time)was released in 1971 and findings from this study showed that over time, women who lived together tended to cycletogether. A study published in Human Nature, however, explain that menstrual syncing may happen more so by chance. So why are you and your bestie on your periods at the same time? Well, for starters, the length of your cycle may vary so you could just be experiencing period overlap. Another reason may relate to pheromones. You know, that subtle smell you give off. Well, a study conducted in 2000 found that period syncing happened when a certain pheromone was detected. But this theory has also been disputed.

Can drinking alcohol affect my period?

Women who suffer from alcoholism generally have a variety of menstrual and reproductive issues like irregular periods, lack of periods, and infertility.But if you are a social or casual drinker, researchers believe that there is little association between your alcohol intake and any menstrual cycle dysfunction. Moderate alcohol intake by healthy women who do not have any reproductive disorders is not likely related to menstrual issues.

Can a tampon actually get lost inside of me?

You’ll be glad to know that they cannot. Think of your vagina as a long hallway and at the end is your cervix. Your cervix has a very small opening that’s actually too small to fit a tampon. It is possible though, to forget about a tampon which may cause it to slip into a vaginal fold making it hard to find, let alone take out. You usually end up with a very strong vaginal odor and maybe even some brownish colored discharge after a few days. If you ever have trouble finding the tampon string, try inserting a clean finger into your vagina and reaching for the tampon. If this doesn’t work, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. We will help you take it out.

Why are my periods so irregular?

The length of menstrual periods can fluctuate but a typical cycle is about 28 days long. Meaning, there are about 28 days from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. Some women may have a 21-day cycle while other may have a 45-day cycle. But guess what? These are still considered normal. So what’s the deal with your inconsistent period? Let’s review a couple of factors that may be causing your irregularity:

  • A hormonal birth control (pill, injection, implant or IUD)
  • Excessive dieting or eating disorders
  • Heavy athletic training
  • Thyroid issues (too little or too much thyroid hormone)
  • A hormone imbalance
  • Some medications including chemotherapy
  • Emotional factors such as stress
  • Scarring of the uterine cavity
  • Perimenopause (more on this later).

As always, talk to your doctor about your missed period. She may prescribe a hormone pill, other medicines, or recommend lifestyle changes to get your period on track.

I’m in my 40’s, my periods are irregular, I have more vaginal dryness, what’s going on with my body?

So you may be transitioning into a period of life called perimenopause. Starting in your 30s or 40s, the amount of estrogen your body produces may start to fluctuate which can negatively impact your period. Don’t be alarmed though! This is a gradual process that may take several years of transition. You may notice that your cycles are becoming longer, shorter, heck, you might even skip a period! You may also notice changes to your flow either becoming lighter or heavier than usual. The hormonal changes that come along with perimenopause may also cause vaginal dryness and decrease vaginal elasticity making intercourse more painful. Honestly, changes in your period are normal during perimenopause but please tell your healthcare provider about any issues since irregular periods may be a sign of other problems.

Why do I get a yeast infection after my period?

Ah yes, the dreaded yeast infection. Candida Albicansis the yeast fungus most often responsible for vaginal yeast infections. Your vagina may have small amounts of this yeast at any given time and it doesn’t usually cause a problem but when too much of this yeast grows, you often end up with an awful infection. In fact, three out of four womenwill have a yeast infection at some point in their life.Normally, your vagina has a natural balance of candida and bacteria. The bacteria will produce an acid which prevents the yeast from overgrowing but getting your period disturbs the delicate balance between the candida and bacteria and unfortunately, you are left with that all too familiar thick white discharge, burning and itching.

Before running to your local pharmacy for an over the counter remedy, you may want to schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. Two out of three women who use over the counter yeast infection treatment don’t actually have a yeast infection! It’s always best to see your provider first to make sure it’s not anything more serious.

So what can you do to prevent this from happening every month? Wear cotton underwear, it’s more breathable and it might reduce the likelihood that you’ll get another infection.

Other natural remedies include taking a probiotic. A 2017 study found oral and local probiotic treatments to be effective in preventing recurrent vaginal yeast infections. The probiotic Saccharomyces cerevisiae when taken vaginallyshortened the length of the infection.

Having the answer to some of the most frequently asked period questions all in one location awesome. It saves you time, energy and it helps you become better informed.

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