Is 'period flu' a real thing? We asked an expert everything we need to know.

Let's talk facts: Periods suck. For some more than others.

While periods can make many of us feel all crampy, throbby, hormonal and all the rest, there are some poor lambs out there experiencing more extreme symptoms that can feel closer to an actual illness.

We're talking about things like nausea, fatigue, body aches and chills... pretty much everything that sounds like the flu. So, yeah - the condition has been aptly labelled 'period flu'.


Watch: Speaking of periods, here's what yours would be like if it was a person! Post continues below. 

Video via Mamamia

So, what's really going on with our body? Why do some of us feel like utter poo before our period? 

Because there are some misconceptions floating around, we asked a gynaecologist to weigh in on this 'period flu' phenomenon, and what those suffering from it can do to get some relief.

Is 'period flu' a real thing?

Period flu isn't a legit medical term or diagnosis and it has nothing to do with the actual flu. However, it is definitely a common thing that people feel - so you're not crazy or alone. 

"I believe that 'period flu' may refer to women who vomit, get nausea, headaches and tiredness," said obstetrician and gynaecologist Dr Nicole Stamatopoulos.


While you don't actually have a virus as such (there are no studies that show your immune system is involved), your body is basically mimicking similar symptoms. So cheeky. And confusing.

"It does not have anything to do with the real flu, but it is likely part of pre-menstrual syndrome," said Stamatopoulos. "The most likely reason is the drop in oestrogen and progesterone prior to the start of menstruation." 

Y'see, before your period, your estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate like crazy, which can result in things like headaches, nausea and such. Nice.

These hormones can also cause intestinal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and the general aching/feeling like utter sh*t.

Listen to Mamamia's podcast for your face, You Beauty, where we talk about period skincare. Post continues below. 

Sooo you can pretty much just blame the hormonal thrashing that is PMS until there's more concrete scientific evidence that backs it up. Because 'period flu' is a thing that's still not fully understood, and it's not always something that is acknowledged in the medical community. 

Weird, right?

What causes 'period flu'?

The main instigator? Hormones. 

Dr Stamatopoulos said: "If it's a symptom that only flares with periods, then theoretically it would be linked to low hormone levels."

According to medical professionals, some women experience these annoying symptoms because of a fatty acid known as prostaglandin causing havoc with their intestinal system.


For anyone not familiar with prostaglandins (read: all of us), it is basically a hormone that causes your uterus to contract each month and release the lining of your uterus, kick-starting your period. 

Studies have shown that the more prostaglandin inflammation you have, the worse things like menstrual cramps can be. Diet and lifestyle habits can affect the levels of prostaglandins, causing the symptoms mentioned above - such as intestinal cramps, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.

Can endometriosis (or other conditions) make 'period flu' worse?

According to Dr Stamatopoulos, "Endometriosis causes pain with periods because the endometrial tissue bleeds when you have your period and causes inflammation. So while endo does not cause flu-like symptoms, it makes sense that they would happen at the same time."

She goes on to say that women can experience a plethora of symptoms when they have their period, she "certainly would not discount" a link between the two.

"Endometriosis is a challenging disease — for patients and doctors — and there is still so much we don't know."

So, if you're experiencing flu-like symptoms around the time of your period every month, could this be a sign of endometriosis?

Short answer? No.

"Many women who do not have endometriosis can feel unwell with their period. However, if they have periods, painful periods, pain with intercourse or bladder or bowel symptoms around the time of their period, these may be symptoms of endometriosis."

What's the best way to cope with these symptoms?

If feeling sick and flu-like is just normal for you coming up to your period, you might want to check in with a doctor or gynaecologist to make sure everything is fine. 


"If you are concerned, seek help. Unfortunately many women, or those people who have menstrual cycles, think what they are experiencing is normal. If you're worried about your symptoms, please see a gynaecologist, don't wait."

Dr Stamatopoulos said your doctor should be able to assist you in discussing some potential treatment options, like hormonal birth control. 

"Hormonal options like the combined oral contraceptive pill and NuvaRing keep the level of hormones constant and low," said Dr Stamatopoulos. "In this way, the hormone drop is not as large and not as rapid and the symptoms are not as bad."

Dr Stamatopoulos said other options like over-the-counter herbal supplements can also help ease symptoms. 

"These types of pre-menstrual symptoms can be managed with non-hormonal options such as vitamins, like vitex agnus castus (you can get this from the chemist), and B vitamins." 

Even though we’ve all grown up accepting our periods as annoying or painful, if you're feeling super uncomfortable or physically and emotionally ill, don't feel like you need to just suck it up and soldier on. 

Seek help or talk to your doctor about what kind of lifestyle changes you can make, because there might be some other issues at play.

This article was originally published on January 6, 2021, and has since been updated with new information.

Feature image: Getty

Do you ever suffer from 'period flu'? Share your experience with us in the comment section below.

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