15 Surprising Things That Happen During Your Period—Besides Your Period

Updated: Feb. 08, 2023

We all know the bloating-cramping-chocolate-craving basics of being on your period. But there's a range of other bodily changes menstruation brings about. Here's the little-known stuff you need to know about your time of the month.

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Menstruation isn’t just a below-the-belt event

Anyone who thinks your period only happens “down there” is missing a big part of the picture. “The menstrual cycle is dictated by hormones that are produced both in the brain and within the ovaries,” says Julia Cron, MD, Section Chair for Connecticut American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences at Yale School of Medicine. “Hormones circulate through one’s entire body, and there are hormone receptors in many parts of one’s body, so it follows that the hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle affect many different systems.” PMS, too, can be a bear, but it doesn’t have to be, thanks to these easy tricks like cycle syncing that ease your PMS misery.

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Faux menopause symptoms

Just before menstruation, low estrogen levels could cause symptoms that add up to menopause-ish sensations. “Right before their period women sometimes say, ‘Oh I have hot flashes,’ ‘I have headaches,’ ‘I can’t sleep,’ just like women in their 50s say,” Dr. Cron explains. “And that’s biologically explained by a hypo estrogen state.” Make sure you never make these 13 period mistakes again or else your time of the month will be even worse!

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Menstruation gingivitis

“The gingival tissues have lots of estrogen receptors that respond to hormonal fluctuations,” Susan Karabin, D.D.S., past president of the American Academy of Periodontology, told Women’s Health. High estrogen levels occurring the few days before your period starts can cause gum problems such as swelling. Because hormonal changes could worsen any underlying issues, such as inflammation, Dr. Karabin recommends being extra vigilant about brushing and flossing right before your period. Try one of these 12 period products guaranteed to make things easier for you.

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More painful migraines

At the end of your cycle estrogen levels take a nose-dive, which could trigger headaches or migraines, Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor in the department of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, told Health.com. Actually, 70 percent of women who suffer from migraines notice these excruciating headaches are regularly associated with their period. (Here are some tips for preventing menstrual migraines.)

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Actually, more pain in general

Changing estrogen levels may impact your sensitivity to pain overall. “Boys and girls have similar pain detection until puberty,” Rob Danoff, D.O., of the American Osteopathic Association told Women’s Health. “After that, the perception of pain seems to be more intense for women when estrogen levels drop, like right before menstruation.”

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Potty problems

You may have changing progesterone levels to thank for the constipation, diarrhea, or combo of both that hit when you’re menstruating, says Health.com. In addition, science has indicated that women dealing with digestive disorders, such as inflammatory bowel disease, have a greater likelihood of looser and more frequent stools as well as more abdominal pain when their period comes around.

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Extra yeast infections

It’s possible that hormonal changes could make you more prone to an overgrowth of yeast, Grace Lau, MD, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told Women’s Health. So if that telltale burning and itching of a yeast infection hits in the days before your period, your cycle could be to blame. Here are the reasons behind a missed period that have nothing do with pregnancy.

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Keener sense of smell

It turns out your cycle impacts your sniffer as well. A group of women near ovulation who were not taking contraceptives were more sensitive to the odors of male musk and pheromones than a group who were taking contraceptives, according to a 2013 study in Hormones and Behavior reported by Scientific American. Such sensitivity may extend to other scents. Women may also have a keener sense of smell in general during their luteal phase—the part of your cycle immediately following ovulation—according to another study the same year in Physiology and Behavior. “I believe these variations in olfactory sensitivity are closely tied to the functions of the reproductive system, where the capacity to identify certain odors increases at times when procreation is more likely,” Jessica McNeil, a doctoral student in psychology at the University of Ottawa’s School of Human Kinetics, who co-authored the Physiology and Behavior study, told Scientific American.

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Being butterfingered

If you feel like a klutz around the time of your period, you’re not alone. Women often report this symptom to gynecologists, Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Yale School of Medicine, told Women’s Health mag.com. The going theory is that a boost in estrogen prompts the liver to produce hormones that impact the kidneys, causing fluid retention that could make it more challenging to maintain your balance.

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Better workouts

Finally, there’s a perk to your period! You can take advantage of fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels to get the most out of your time at the gym “When your period comes, your hormones are at their lowest. You end up with better intensity, higher fatigue resistance, and better recovery,” Stacy T. Sims, PhD, an exercise physiologist and nutrition scientist in the San Francisco Bay area told Health.com. “Go hard on the workouts!” Here are more sneaky ways that your menstrual cycle is affecting your workouts.

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More in the mood

And there’s another bonus. A slew of studies has shown libido fluctuates with the menstrual cycle, with women feeling most in the mood around the time of ovulation, says PsychologyToday.com. At the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, for example, female study participants between the ages of 23 to 45 reported “significantly more interest in sex and greater satisfaction from orgasm at mid-cycle.”

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Parallel parking problems

The rising hormone levels of pre-ovulation could have a bad impact on spatial skills, making tasks like parallel parking more difficult, according to reporting by the Mirror.co.uk. Little surprise, then, that the low hormone levels around day 28 of your cycle have been linked to improved spatial abilities, making this the best time to ace a driving test.

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Sleepless nights

Plummeting hormone levels could be the reason you’re having trouble getting shut-eye, according to Women’s Health. In the days leading to your period you’re hit with a double-whammy of plunging progesterone (which at normal levels has a sedative effect) and decreasing estrogen (which can cause you to feel overheated while snoozing). Offset those sleep saboteurs with these 13 tips for better sleep during your period.

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Different symptoms for different women

“Every woman experiences her period differently,” says Dr. Cron. “Some women have minimal pain, some women have extreme pain; some have long periods, some have short periods. The menstrual cycle is definitely very different for different women, so the things you do to manage it also vary.” Try one of these surprising treatments for minimizing period pain.

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Symptoms that raise a red flag

While there are a range of normal symptoms that may be part of your personal menstrual cycle, there are a few that should prompt you to call your doctor in case they’re a sign of something else. “If someone has debilitating pain during their menstrual cycle—meaning pain that limits your normal activities—it could be a marker for things like endometriosis,” says Dr. Cron. Other reasons to ring your physician would be intermenstrual bleeding, meaning bleeding between periods, and excessively long or excessively heavy bleeding. “For these things women should seek help,” Dr. Cron urges. Learn more about the things your first period can reveal about your health.