Unexpected Ways Your Cycle Messes with You

By Julie Vargo, Editorial Contributor

PMS, cramps and bloat are the usual suspects for menstrual cycles’ most common side effects. But, there actually are more unexpected symptoms than most women realize.

“Some women sail through the month with no problems,” says Dr. Meredith Watson-Locklear, an OB-GYN with Orlando Health Physician Associates. “But many have mood or body changes they weren’t expecting or don’t attribute to their menstrual cycle.”

Blame it on the hormonal hijinks of estrogen and progesterone. Their monthly ebb and flow can affect everything from a woman’s mood, sleep patterns and skin condition to her concentration, bathroom business and shopping habits.

“Mild bloating, a headache or cramps are normal,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “But being in bed for two days with debilitating nausea or migraines, or wanting to stab your spouse or getting written up at work for attitude every month during your cycle is not.”

Sound like you? Call your doctor. Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate some symptoms. “We also can prescribe birth control pills to regulate the big hormonal swings and help with many of these symptoms,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Do not suffer alone.”

Wheezy Breezy

Consistently out of breath every month? You may suffer from premenstrual asthma. “Breathing patterns can be affected by where you are in your cycle,” says Dr. Watson- Locklear. “Shortness of breath and allergic sensitivity increase right before you get your period. Breathing problems should end about the time you ovulate.”

Vocal Majority

Unless you are a professional singer who needs to consistently hit the high notes, you may not notice the slight changes to your voice throughout the month. But studies show hormonal fluctuations alter the pitch and intensity of a woman’s voice. Following your period, vocal pitch drops. As you move past ovulation, voice intensity lowers.

Breaking Bad Habits

Want to quit a bad habit? Wait until after ovulation, then go for it. Studies show female smokers who try to quit during the end of their menstrual cycle are more determined and successful. Plan accordingly.

Shop ’Til You Drop

Racking up credit card debt from monthly spending sprees may be linked to your cycle, too. Temptation takes charge and impulse control slips in the first phase of your cycle, according to research. The result? Menstruating women tend to shop more impulsively and spend more money than at other times of the month. Right before ovulation, spending shifts toward clothes and jewelry — items designed to enhance appearance.

Brain Drain

Plagued by monthly bouts of scattered attention span, inability to multitask and spaced-out feelings? Don’t worry. It’s normal. Once you start your period, your mind should snap back to normal. “Low serotonin due to ovulation mid-cycle can affect your concentration,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Some women might seem a bit drifty. For others, they literally cannot function.”


Water retention causes more afflictions than just bloating. “Fluid retention during your cycle can affect blood pressure, coordination and weight,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “Women may even feel more clumsy right before their period. To counteract this, drink more water and watch your salt intake throughout the month.”

Fortunately, your coordination, weight and blood pressure will return to normal as your period ends and the fluid dissipates.

Mind Games

Studies also show raging PMS hormones can trigger weight obsessions and sink self-image. “Try to keep the fact that this is cyclical in mind,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “But if this becomes an emotional issue for you, talk to your doctor.”

Potty Problems

Bouts of diarrhea and increased gas are more common during your period, thanks plummeting progesterone levels combined with hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins signaling your uterus to contract and cramp. Prostaglandins send a similar signal to the intestines, resulting in more frequent bathroom breaks during menstruation.

“If you suffer from GI tract disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, related symptoms such as loose stools and abdominal pain may be even more common when menstruating,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear.

Is That a UTI?

A drop in estrogen can result in vaginal dryness and itching, mimicking the symptoms of yeast infections and urinary tract infections.

“If you think you have a yeast infection every month during your cycle, you probably are experiencing changes in vaginal pH,” says Dr. Watson-Locklear. “But if you have odor and discomfort, call your doctor.”

Need an OB-GYN to help you navigate menstrual issues? Go to

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