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.