Around 90 percent of women experience at least some symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), according to the Office on Women’s Health. Bloating, a heavy feeling in your abdomen, is one of those symptoms that can feel uncomfortable.
For some women, it’s easy to tell whether their bloating is hormonal. It may closely follow your cycle, beginning a few days before your period and ending once it starts. It may be accompanied by other symptoms, such as headache, cramps, and irritability.
Other women might have more vague symptoms and may not be sure if their bloating is caused by PMS. Bloating can signal other health problems, too, such as GERD, irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, or ovarian cancer, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Keeping a daily journal of your bloating, and other symptoms, can help. If you feel bloated within the five days preceding your period and it goes away within four days after the start of your period, it is probably related to your hormones, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
What can you do?
Bloating is caused by water retention. While it isn’t fully understood why hormonal changes cause your body to retain more fluids, focusing on ways to reduce water retention can help.
Foods high in sodium and refined carbohydrates, such as white flour and processed sugars, can increase levels of insulin in your body and cause your kidneys to retain sodium, which can lead to bloating, according to a study published in the International Journal of Hypertension. Avoiding or reducing these foods in your diet might help to relieve the bloating. Instead, add more complex carbohydrates to your diet, such as whole grains, barley, brown rice, beans and lentils.
Some women report that drinking more water helps. While this sounds counterintuitive, drinking plenty of fluids may actually help flush out your system and reduce bloating and fluid retention, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. However, a report by the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology indicates there may not be enough scientific evidence to back this up.
Making sure you have enough vitamin B6 in your diet might help with bloating, according to the Office on Women’s Health. Vitamin B6 is found in fish, poultry, potatoes, fruit (except citrus fruit), and fortified cereals. It can also be taken as a supplement. If you decide to take supplements, talk with your doctor first. High levels of B6 can cause other health problems, such as nerve damage, according to the National Institutes of Health. For women between the ages of 19 and 50 years old, you should get 1.3 mg of B6 each day.
Daily exercise might also help. Women who regularly exercise experience fewer and less severe symptoms of PMS, according to a 2013 study. While this study discusses PMS symptoms in general, reducing these might also help with bloating.
5. Hormonal birth control
Some women find that using certain hormonal birth control methods can decrease period bloating, according to a 2008 study. Many women who use hormonal birth control methods find that their overall PMS symptoms decrease.
When to see a doctor
For most women, bloating, and PMS generally, is unpleasant and causes discomfort, but it shouldn’t be bad enough to stop you from functioning. If your symptoms, including bloating, are severe enough that they are impacting your ability to function throughout the days right before and after your period, you should talk to your gynecologist.
In addition to lifestyle changes and birth control, there are a few other medications that might help. Diuretics, which help to reduce fluid build-up, may be one way to help, according to the Office on Women’s Health. These can have side effects and do not help other symptoms of PMS. Spironolactone, a medication used to treat congestive heart failure, might also help reduce bloating, according to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. You can talk to your doctor about these options if bloating is an issue for you.
This is an update of an article originally written by HealthCentral contributor Merely Me.
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Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.