Reasons You Should Track Your Menstrual Cycle

One of the things I get asked occasionally when discussing PMDD and how I manage it, is how I track my menstrual cycle. Now, I know, as a writer, I should probably favour good old fashioned pen and paper, but instead I prefer to use an app. It’s quick and easy, and all the information you need is available at your fingertips. I’ll go into more detail about which app I use and why, shortly, but first a few reasons why you should track your menstrual cycle.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A PREMENSTRUAL DISORDER….

There are many reasons why you might wish to start tracking your menstrual cycle, or maybe you haven’t been considering it previously at all. Either way, here’s a few core points as to why you might start. Not all of them are relevant to PMDD, but if you do have PMDD see this as a reminder that in order to gain access to adequate treatment, and or diagnosis, you really need to have tracked your cycle for a minimum of two months (or two previous cycles.)

The reason being, cycles as we know, change, with hormones fluctuating regularly. When living with PMDD specifically I would (personally) recommend cycle tracking to have taken place for a minimum of three to six months. Because, as a consequence of hormone fluctuations, symptoms will too fluctuate and it’s important, for diagnostic purposes, to note the severity in symptoms and whether they occur frequently or ad hoc. It’s also useful for you individually to note how long your PMDD episodes last, their impact on your life, and whether normal every day activities are compromised. PMDD doesn’t only come with psychological symptoms, despite it being a hormone based mood disorder. Many persons with PMDD also experience a range of more prominent physical symptoms than those with PMS. And all of that’s without really delving into the influence they have on our moods and mental health. IAPMD recently published a study showing that an alarming 34% of persons with a menstrual disorder such as PMDD will attempt suicide. If you have been feeling depressed, anxious or dealing with intrusive thoughts, see a health care provider as soon as possible and start cycle tracking. It’s a really useful tool in determining if your symptoms could be related to, or be exacerbated by hormonal changes and your period.

THE WHY IF YOU HAVE A NORMAL CYCLE….

If you’re someone who has never experienced menstrual health issues, you might be wondering why you’d bother to track your menstrual cycle. Surely if your period arrives like clockwork every month with minimal impact on your life, cycle tracking is an unnecessary chore? Well…not necessarily. The purpose of tracking your menstrual cycle is a personal one, but many people still want to get ahead of aunt Flow’s monthly visit, and keeping track is a great way to do it. You may be planning a holiday in advance and having tracked your cycle for the last few months is more likely to give you an accurate prediction of when a future cycle is likely to end and your period start. You may be keen to learn when you’re likely to ovulate. Again, this is more likely to be accurate if you are regularly keeping track of when you bleed. Many people now use cycle tracking as a medicinal birth control alternative, as well as when planning pregnancy. Perhaps your period has always been regular but now isn’t. Could you be pregnant? Is it peri menopause or even menopause itself? You might also be experiencing symptoms that you are completely unaware could be caused or exacerbated by hormonal fluctuations. Did you know common illnesses such as colds and sort throats can also be caused by hormonal changes including being premenstrual? Learn more about ‘period flu’ here. It’s even possible you’ve developed random hives, or your hay-fever is much worse. When you are cycle tracking though, looking back at the calendar you can pinpoint when this is likely to occur in future and potentially prevent the impact. Perhaps your migraine attacks have worsened or increased despite avoiding your usual triggers. Aches and pains have been bothering you, and fatigue is something you’ve been sure is just ‘normal tiredness’ but has become overwhelming recently.

Hormones affect so much of our bodily functioning and have the power to better or worsen how we feel much of the time. Without tracking your cycle it’s simply impossible to know if physical symptoms you could be putting down to everyday problems, are actually linked to hormonal fluctuations, imbalances, sensitivities, and in some cases more serious illnesses such as PMDD, endometriosis or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome and even some cancers.

HOW DO I TRACK MY CYCLE?

There are infinite ways you can cycle track. Of course, as previously mentioned, good old fashioned pen and paper AKA a wall calendar or diary, will suffice. Just be sure to be consistent with diarising your symptoms and how they affect you. Specific menstrual health diaries are available to purchase on Amazon too.

The reasons I personally choose to track using an app are: it’s quicker, you can set reminders to prompt you to log symptoms, and even add medication prompts on some. Ovulation prediction is easier via an app too, it does it for you based on your previous two cycles. The App I use and have always used is simply called Period Tracker and is free via AppStore it has all the above features and also includes a place to diarise what’s going on, or leave yourself notes. Other common favourites seem to be FitBit and using your phone’s built in calendar, adding emojis to describe mood and notes for symptoms. There are so many to choose from though, plenty of options to make finding the one that works best for you easy!Typing in key words such as menstruation or period in your preferred App Store will allow you to see which ones are available on your device. As ever the infinite wealth of resources available via IAPMD is also a fantastic place to start. They have a self screen tool for people who feel their symptoms could be related to PMDD or PME. Diagnostic criteria and advice as well as symptom tracker sheets specifically designed for PMDD. You can access all of their resources via this link

I personally use a cycle tracker to prevent, reflect, prepare and manage my periods and their impact on my life and abilities. It helps me understand why I might be feeling a certain way and is also a useful tool when presenting symptoms to healthcare professionals. Good luck, ‘appy tracking!

Disclaimer: Everything mentioned in this post, including the links and suggestions, are my own personal experiences, opinions and preferences, and are not affiliated in any way with the websites or brands mentioned.

Menstruation and it’s effect on underlying health conditions.

You all, or at least those of you that have been following me for a while, know that I am big into learning about how hormones effect mental health. Living with Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder my whole menstruating life, and an extreme sensitivity to hormonal fluctuations, I have made it a mission of mine to know exactly where I am in my menstrual cycle at all times in order for me to be able to predict how hormonal changes will impact my mood. In doing so I have become increasingly aware how the rest of my health is also impacted by hormonal fluctuations, and in this blog I’ll talk a bit about my personal experience and provide links to evidence based information supporting my theory, that hormones affect everything! Including, mental and physical health.

In 2016 around ten months after my daughter was born, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. I have lived with chronic pain for as long as I can remember, but after pregnancy this seemed to worsen to such a degree that I was becoming less able to function and struggling to participate in every day activities. I also had a range of other symptoms such as cognitive dysfunction, profound fatigue, and an exacerbation in conditions that were already present such as PMDD and Migraine. The same year I was also diagnosed with shingles.

Since then, with every menstrual cycle I have experienced an exacerbation in all of the above symptoms in the extreme.

Society already knows that menstruation comes with its own set of symptoms, like bloating, menstrual cramps and backache. As well as for some women and in some cases, brain fog, nausea, fainting and migraine. But what about for those of us with underlying health conditions? Are you aware, that like me, your period could be exacerbating symptoms of illnesses already in situ? For example, during the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle I will experience excruciating joint pain, severe, frequent and lengthy migraine attacks, reoccurring shingles site pain, profound fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction that interferes with daily living. Alongside common symptoms of poor immune function, such as mouth ulcers, sore throat, wheeziness and more.

Why does this happen? It’s a good question and reliable studies are difficult to come across. So far I have struggled to find any solid UK based studies, that are available to view online. That’s not to suggest there aren’t any, just that we can’t view them. However, as well as studies showing how menstrual health affects mental health, Ncbi have various studies that show how oestrogen, progesterone and testosterone have been known to affect immune and inflammatory markers. Below is a paragraph was taken from two separate studies on immunity and sex hormones:

Exacerbation of common medical and mental health disorders at specific phases of the menstrual cycle is a prevalent phenomenon. Although the precise cause is unclear, studies implicate complex interactions between the immune and neuroendocrine systems. Females and males differ in the energy consumption and nutritional requirements which are based on the interactions between environmental factors and sex hormones (1). The studies in early 1940s ascertained that females have enhanced capability of producing antibodies (2, 3). This enhanced immune reactivity in females helps mount an effective resistance to infection and therefore females are less susceptible to viral infections, but can develop immune-pathogenic effects and predisposition to autoimmunity due to hyper immune responses.

Separate, but few studies have taken place in the US to determine whether conditions such as fibromyalgia may be related to low oestrogen as it’s a condition that preferentially affects women.

Many women/AFABI with chronic health conditions report increased severity in symptoms around menstruation.

We know that oestrogens affect diseases like cancers and can cause significant disruption to the most bizarre of health issues, including things like dental problems during pregnancy and temporomandibular joint dysfunction. We also know that hormones are a key trigger for many women with migraine. Myself included. I cannot take the combined pill as a treatment for PMDD because of the increased risk of stroke associated with oral oestrogen and migraine with aura. We also know that peri and post menopausal women suffer increased symptoms similar to those mentioned, including joint pain, migraine, frequent viral infections and reoccurring oral health issues, and those associated with syndromes such as fibromyalgia.

Unfortunately at this stage and without hard and steadfast reporting it’s not suggested that HRT is a treatment for any of the aforementioned ailments (besides PMDD.) However, if, like me, you’ve noticed a key link between when your body is experiencing hormonal changes and a decline in your physical well-being, it’s worth tracking your symptoms for at least three months. I use an app called Period Tracker which is available on all app stores and is free to download. It’s easy to use and converts to PDF for easy printing. Tracking your cycle is not only imperative to make connections for symptoms of physical health decline, it’s also as mentioned, a useful tool to predict mood changes, ovulation, and to document any treatments you might try to combat symptoms. The period tracker I’ve mentioned (not aff) also has a prompt for medication which I find really useful particularly during the premenstrual period, when brain fog and memory are affected.

For me and many women like me, it’s not just a period. It’s not just menopause. These hormonal changes are having a profound effect on quality of life and more needs to be done in order to find reliable and safe treatment.