Most people are familiar with the cramps and irritability preceding an oncoming period. But some women have reported a more severe version of PMS known as the “period flu.”
Though it’s not a legitimate medical diagnosis, period flu describes premenstrual, flu-like symptoms such as nausea, body aches or fever. Normally it starts a few days before a period and lasts until the day it ends, and it can disrupt your everyday life.
“It’s a more severe form of PMS where you may feel as if you’re actually ill and experience headaches, chills, vomiting or insomnia. But it’s not actually the flu. You’re not actually sick and it’s not contagious,” says Tara Scott, medical director of integrative medicine at Summa Health and Revitalize Forum Health.
But experts warn that just because period flu isn’t an official diagnosis doesn’t mean it isn’t concerning.
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‘Period flu’: What is it and what are the symptoms?
Unlike PMS, period flu goes beyond the hallmark crankiness and bloating, instead dealing more with physical, rather than emotional, symptoms. For instance, muscle aches, migraines, diarrhea, hot flashes and even a low-grade fever.
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While there is no clear evidence behind its cause, experts say the likely culprit is hormone fluctuation. According to Christine Greves, a board-certified OB/GYN at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies, changes in estrogen and progesterone levels may affect one’s chemical and immune system.
“When your period occurs, it involves the shedding and lining of the uterus and getting rid of that tissue. So that can result in different hormones like progesterone causing these issues for some women,” Greves explains.
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The good news is that period flu typically isn’t life-threatening. However, any pain that causes distress shouldn’t be normalized.
Scott says that these premenstrual symptoms can be “highly debilitating,” yet many women feel reluctant to seek medical attention. Research has shown that in comparison to men, women’s concerns about pain are often dismissed and overlooked as exaggerated or oversensitive by doctors.
“It’s important for medical professionals to validate that these symptoms are real. That they’re not being ‘dramatic’ or ‘crazy,'” Scott says. “Many women suffer from these problems, and just because we’re not taught about it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Over-the-counter options like Tylenol or Ibuprofen may help alleviate specific symptoms like headaches or muscle pain. However, a more worthwhile alternative is to investigate the root cause of these problems: hormonal imbalance.
Aside from medical treatment, Greves recommends consulting a professional who specializes in hormone therapy or even making lifestyle changes to help with hormonal imbalance, such as managing your stress levels, getting routine exercise and making dietary adjustments.
“If you have the period flu, it’s not just one month and you’re done. Feeling like you often have the flu can affect your daily life and activities, so it’s important to try to figure out a healthy way to deal with discomfort and pain,” Greves says.