Things to Know About Menstrual Flu

“Flu season” is not a medical term. However, it describes a series of flu-like symptoms that some people experience shortly before their menstrual period.

Once a month, in the days before their period, some people have physical and emotional symptoms that can make them feel like they have the flu.

The flu includes many of the symptoms that doctors often group together under the term premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

The flu season is not fully understood by healthcare professionals, and the exact underlying cause is unclear.

Symptoms of Period Flu

Period flu is not the flu commonly known as the flu. Instead, it’s a term people use to describe the symptoms they experience just before their period.

The symptoms of menstrual flu are similar to the flu. They are also consistent with many of the PMS symptoms.

Symptoms of the period flu include:

  • Nausea
  • dizziness
  • Muscle pains
  • difficulty concentrating
  • Joint pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Back pain
  • tender tummy
  • Swelling
  • cramps
  • fever or chills

One of the most important features of period flu symptoms is that they are cyclical. They tend to occur at the same time each month, just before a person’s menstruation.

Causes of Period Flu

People often report period flu symptoms after they ovulate, when estrogen levels drop and progesterone levels rise.

Researchers have not identified a single, specific cause of premenstrual symptoms. However, they can be caused by:

  • Sensitivity to substances released when progesterone is broken down
  • Progesterone, which affects chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters in the brain
  • Changes in the levels of a certain neurotransmitter called serotonin

Young people are more likely to have periodic flu attacks than older people. After menopause, the period flu should end.

How much will it take?
Period flu attacks usually do not last more than 2 weeks. Symptoms usually begin after ovulation, in the last 2 weeks of an average 28-day menstrual cycle. Menstrual flu symptoms usually improve after menstruation begins and go away when they end.

Menstrual flu goes away permanently during menopause when a person stops menstruating.

Period flu vs COVID-19
Period flu has flu-like symptoms, and both of these conditions share symptoms with covid-19. The only way to know for sure if someone has COVID-19 rather than seasonal flu is to do a test for COVID-19.

Symptoms that can be caused by the flu and the COVID-19 season include:

  • aches
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle pains
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms

It is important to note that COVID-19 is a contagious disease, whereas the flu is not. People who practice physical distancing, wear masks, and wash their hands regularly can help prevent the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.

Anyone who develops symptoms of COVID-19 should get a test, regardless of what point in the menstrual cycle they are at.

Homemade Medicines

Self-care practices can provide some relief from the period flu. Getting enough sleep is a very important first step. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults need 7 hours or more of sleep each night.

Taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen or aspirin can relieve aches and pains.

Dietary changes can also help people relieve their premenstrual discomfort. These may include:

  • Switching to smaller, more frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels stable
  • Eating whole grain foods such as whole grain bread, brown rice and beans
  • Eating calcium-rich foods such as yogurt and green leafy vegetables
  • Eating foods high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and flaxseed
  • Reducing fat, sugar and salt
  • avoiding alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco

Scientific studies on the effectiveness of alternative medicines for menstruation and related conditions have had mixed results, according to the Office of Women’s Health (OWH).

However, the OWH reported that some people improved symptoms with herbal supplements such as:

  • evening primrose oil
  • black cohosh
  • Chasteberry, which should not be used by hormonal drug users

Other apps that can help reduce flu symptoms include:

  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Deep breath

Treatment

Although many people will experience seasonal flu or PMS at some point in their lives, it affects some individuals more severely than others.

Treatment options for severe cases of the flu include:

  • Prescription pain relievers for muscle and joint pain
  • diuretics for water retention
  • Hormone medications that improve symptoms by affecting hormone levels
  • Antidepressants for psychological conditions that the flu can cause

When to Apply to the Doctor

The menstrual flu can make the person uncomfortable and cause them to worry that they may have the flu. However, most people do not need to see a doctor or take prescription medication.

Some experts recommend seeing a doctor for premenstrual symptoms if they interfere with the ability to perform daily activities.

Prevention

According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise most days can help reduce flu symptoms.

Aerobic exercise includes activities that increase the heart rate and cause rapid breathing. Cycling, swimming, running and brisk walking are aerobic activities.

Summary

Period flu describes a group of symptoms that some people experience just before their menstrual period. It has a connection with changes in hormone levels during a person’s menstrual cycle. Some symptoms, such as body aches and fatigue, can make people feel like they’re falling for the flu.

Although menstrual flu is not contagious, it causes discomfort unlike the flu.

People can often manage their symptoms with self-care, dietary changes, and OTC medications. If the period flu is preventing a person from carrying out their daily activities, a doctor’s referral can help.

Source: MedicalNewsToday. 2020. What to know about period flu?

References

  • Bae, J., take meat. (2018). Factors associated with menstrual cycle irregularity and menopause.
    https://bmcwomenshealth.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12905-018-0528-x
  • Flu: What to do if you get sick. (2021).
    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/takingcare.htm
  • How much sleep do I need? (2017).
    https://www.cdc.gov/sleep/about_sleep/how_much_sleep.html
  • premenstrual syndrome. (2016).
    https://medlineplus.gov/premenstrualsyndrome.html
  • Premenstrual syndrome: Overview. (2017).
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279265
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (2015).
    https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/premenstrual-syndrome
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS). (2018).
    https://www.womenshealth.gov/menstrual-cycle/premenstrual-syndrome
  • Reed, BG, et al. (2018). The normal menstrual cycle and the control of ovulation.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279054/
  • Similarities and differences between flu and COVID-19. (2021).
    https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/flu-vs-covid19.htm

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