Is ‘period flu’ real? We asked an expert to explain

Do you experience flu-like symptoms in the days before your period? You are not alone in feeling rundown, achy and fatigued. Here, a health expert explains what’s going on in our bodies when we get “period flu”.

Bloating. Mood swings. Spots. Leakages. Stabbing pains. Yep, being on your period is bullshit. After years of menstruating, however, we’ve come to expect these symptoms as part of our monthly cycle. 

But what about those days before your period comes? Is it normal to feel a different set of symptoms? Is “period flu” a common thing? And, in the time of coronavirus, should we be listening extra-carefully to these pre-period symptoms?

Thanks to my low iron levels, I’ve always had painful periods. My body tends to warn me about my next incoming period about a week in advance. The warning signs include exhaustion, a sore throat and – my favourite part – a coldsore. During the pandemic, there have been times when I’ve questioned if they were coronavirus symptoms because they feel so flu-like. 

After speaking with friends and colleagues, I found I’m not the only one who suffers from this so-called period flu. 

“I did a coronavirus test the other week because I felt that shit,” says Stylist’s fitness writer Chloe. “It turned out just to be my period. Lol. But I always feel run down before my period. I get fatigued and I can feel my ovaries moving inside my body.”

“While the actual period bit itself is a nightmare, the run-up to it is just as bad,” our editor-at-large Kayleigh adds. “I get terrible aches throughout my body, my energy levels are sapped to zero (I sleep like the dead when I’m premenstrual), and I usually am physically sick most days, too.

“I also get incredibly cold and shivery, so you’ll usually find me bundled up in a pile of blankets on the sofa feeling horribly sorry for myself. “

And digital deputy editor Jaz has noticed another frustrating pre-period pattern: “I feel a bit sniffly very often. I’m prone to colds and although I’m used to them, they piss me off and I can never really understand when and why they turn up in my life. 

“But when I sat and thought about the frequency with which I have some sort of flu symptom (once a month for a couple of days, minimum) I realised it does actually align with my period, which is both wild and reassuring. It’s normally in the days preceding my period which doesn’t help with my generally shitty disposition.”

At a time when recognising and acting on flu symptoms is more important than ever, we decided to ask a health expert about period flu. Here, LloydsPharmacy pharmacist Anshu Kaura answers our questions.

Is period flu a real thing?

“Period flu isn’t a documented clinical condition, not at the moment. But there are flu-like symptoms that commonly occur. I wouldn’t call it period flu – it’s part of the whole PMS as we know it.”

What are the symptoms of period flu?

“Symptoms vary from person to person. Some people will just get cramps and muscle aches, while other people get a fever. Sometimes, I get what I think is a sore throat, but it’s just me feeling a bit rung down. Then, others can get constipation and diarrhoea. Each system is different.”

What causes period flu?

“It’s a fluctuation in our hormones. Before our period, we’ve got the prostaglandins: these are chemical messengers produced to help our uterus linings to break down. But too many prostaglandins in our bloodstream can cause gastritis symptoms like constipation and diarrhoea. 

“Also, too much oestrogen that is produced during our period can make you feel rundown. They are behind the PMS symptoms that we get: tender breasts, cramps, mood swings.”

Can the morning after pill make you feel rundown?

“I’ve never known either of the morning after pills to cause flu-like symptoms. Obviously, there is a big boost of a hormone and this might confuse your body system a little bit. Nausea and vomitting are a side effect of all drugs, and you might notice some symptoms that are similar to PMS. But flu-like symptoms aren’t a common side effect. That said, I wouldn’t completely rule it out.”

What should we look out for in case it’s flu or coronavirus?

“There can be a crossover with flu symptoms: feeling rundown, fatigued, diarrhoea and nausea. Most people know their hormone cycle roughly so if the symptoms feel completely off, you can’t rule out  Covid. Follow the guidelines and get a test to know for sure, then self-isolate. With winter coming, flu will be on the rise so there will be a lot of crossover.”

If you’re worried you have coronavirus, the main symptoms according to the NHS are:

  • a high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal. 

You can arrange a Covid-19 test through the GOV.UK website.

If you’re worried about a change in your periods, please book an appointment with your GP and find more information on periods on the NHS website. 

Images: Getty

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