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Reading time: 9 min

Period bloating 101

What is period bloating, how to manage it, and when to be concerned

Key takeaways:

  • Period bloating is a common symptom of PMS

  • Quick and effective home remedies for period bloating include reducing salt and fat intake and avoiding simple sugars

  • While research on period bloating has been done, there is no clear understanding of exactly why some people experience bloating during menstruation

What is period bloating?

Have you ever noticed how your pants suddenly feel much tighter than they did yesterday? Or that your belly is suddenly so swollen that you look a little pregnant? Don't worry, it could just be period bloating!

Feeling bloated during your period is quite common (1). It might feel like your belly is heavy and swollen just before you start menstruation (1). For some people, it feels like you are very full or have trapped gas (1,2). Period bloating is one of several symptoms that can occur during PMS, premenstrual syndrome (3). It might be experienced along with other PMS symptoms like backaches, constipation, cramps, acne, or swollen breasts (3).

The digestive system is involved in many processes in the body and is often affected during periods. In one survey of 156 respondents, around 73% of women and people with periods experienced some gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, or diarrhea during their menstrual cycle (4).

What causes period bloating?

Advances in menstrual and reproductive health have been made in recent years (and Clue has helped!), but the reason behind bloating during menstruation remains unsolved by science. While research has been done on bloating during menstruation, there is no clear understanding of why some people experience bloating during their menstrual cycle (6). From the research that has been published, many theories have been explored.

One study looked at whether women had more sensitive bowels than men, and whether this was why some women experienced bloating during their period, however, the results showed there was no difference (7).

Another study explored the theory that people who experience bloating symptoms during their period produce more gas than people who don’t. The study used imaging to observe the amount of gas inside the body and found no relation between gas production and bloating symptoms during periods (8).

Some researchers explored the theory that water retention was linked to period bloating. Water retention happens when your body does not process all the fluid you drink and eat. One study of 42 people with cycles found increased water retention during menstruation, averaging around one pound of weight gain (9). More research is needed to determine if water retention is related to other menstrual symptoms like period bloating (9).

Studies suggest that bloating may be related to hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle. Progesterone interferes with intestinal motility, the movement of food through the body, by slowing down the bowels, and it could potentially cause or contribute to bloating (3,22).

Track your digestion symptoms in Clue

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Can bloating also be a sign of other health conditions?

Yes! Bloating can be a symptom of other health conditions, but usually, it is not the only symptom. Some people may think that because they experience bloating around their period, they have a medical condition such as IBS, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBD, inflammatory bowel disease. For people with IBS or IBD, bloating may be accompanied by changes in digestion, weight fluctuations, abdominal pain, and bleeding during bowel movements (3,4). If you have a combination of these symptoms or notice persistent changes in your bowel habits, you may want to see your healthcare provider, who may evaluate your diet, stress levels, exercise habits, and sleep (5).

How do you reduce bloating during your period?

The good news is, if you experience bloating before or during your period, you’re not alone. We’ve put together a list of helpful tips for reducing bloating and other PMS symptoms, so you can see what works best for you.

  • For bloating symptoms, avoid simple sugars and fatty or salty foods

Data on diet and menstrual bloating is scarce. Some studies link bloating to eating foods that cause fermentation in the gut, such as simple sugars (5,6).

Fatty and salty foods like chips and fried meals can also cause bloating by causing you to retain water (3). Some studies have shown that people experience cravings for snacks and sugar-rich foods before their periods (9,10,11) - if this sounds like you, it could be why you’re experiencing bloating.

  • Drink plenty of water

Staying hydrated is important at any time of your menstrual cycle. It is recommended that people drink at least 1.6 liters of water daily and avoid alcohol and caffeine to reduce PMS symptoms (3,12).

  • Try some regular exercise

Aerobic exercise has been shown to help with premenstrual symptoms (3). This means regular movement of at least 30 minutes a day, throughout your menstrual cycle, might help you. Try a quick walk on your lunch break, or go for a swim after work.

  • You might benefit from medication or supplements

Several types of medication can be used to help reduce bloating around your period and other PMS symptoms. One example is the birth control pill, which is designed to suppress ovulation and reduce fluctuations in hormone levels (3,13).

You could also take probiotics. There are a limited number of studies on probiotics for people with bloating, but they have been proven to reduce gas production, although they did not impact bloating (1,14). Another option is calcium and magnesium supplements sold over the counter which have been shown to reduce bloating and other PMS symptoms (3). One study showed that vitamin E may relieve PMS symptoms (3).

Some healthcare providers may recommend diuretics. Diuretics are drugs that will stimulate your kidneys to eliminate water retention and may be prescribed by your healthcare provider if other treatments do not resolve water retention (3). They’re not prescribed for everyone because they have significant side effects.

Finally, you can find over-the-counter medications designed to treat gas bloating symptoms, like Simeticone (1). Although Simeticone was designed for bloating in general, not specifically period bloating, it can help reduce symptoms (1,15). If you’re considering taking medicine for bloating, talk to your healthcare provider about your symptoms.

  • Try some relaxation techniques

Relaxation can help reduce PMS symptoms and mood swings. Think about what helps you relax - meditation, a massage, better sleep, or yoga. You could try a technique that connects your mind to your body called “biofeedback”. It can help you to control some of your body’s functions such as breathing and muscle relaxation (1,3,16). If you’re considering trying biofeedback for your bloating symptoms, you should schedule a session with a trained therapist to learn the technique (1,3,16).

When should I see a doctor if I have bloating during my period?

If your symptoms interfere with your quality of life, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider. There are also some signs that could indicate that bloating is more than just period bloating. If your weight is changing, you are experiencing strong abdominal pain, you see blood in your poop, or your bowel habits have changed, you should talk to a healthcare provider (17).

Start tracking your symptoms so you can bring your data to appointments with your healthcare provider.

How can you proactively manage and prevent bloating during your period?

At Clue, we believe that tracking gives you the knowledge and agency to advocate for your unique body. Knowing your cycle and when you can expect experiences like bloating can help you understand your baseline and be prepared when you meet with your healthcare provider. Tracking your PMS symptoms can help you make lifestyle changes and test what works for you and what makes your symptoms better or worse.


  • Could bloating be a sign of something more serious?

Bloating is often experienced by healthy people throughout their lives, either related to periods or other completely benign conditions, such as constipation (2). Bloating can be one of many symptoms of other conditions such as IBD, IBS, PCOS, or pregnancy (1,2,3,18). In much rarer situations, bloating can be the first sign of an ovarian cyst or tumor (19). Period bloating can also be one of the signs of endometriosis, called “endo belly” (20). Endo belly is when people with endometriosis experience bloating in the second part of their cycle and it can be associated with other symptoms such as abdominal pain and diarrhea (18). If bloating is accompanied by weight fluctuations, abdominal pain, and bleeding during bowel movements, it is a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider (3,4).

  • How do hormonal changes affect gastrointestinal symptoms in women with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)?

People with irritable bowel syndrome have been shown to experience worsening symptoms during their periods (21). There are receptors for estrogen and progesterone in the digestive system (21), and the hormonal fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone during the cycle can affect bowel function in different ways. Estrogen is involved in pain perception and inflammation and is lower during menstruation. This can worsen IBS symptoms. IBS is more common in people of reproductive age, reinforcing the hormonal importance of these conditions (21).

  • What is the fastest way to reduce period bloating?

By knowing your body and tracking your cycle, you can anticipate when you’ll feel bloated around your period. You can take note of your symptoms in the Clue app and track your digestion or add custom tags to track your specific experiences. This way, you can work on managing your symptoms before they start.

  • Can period bloating cause weight gain?

There is not enough research to say for sure whether period bloating causes weight gain. One study showed that the expected water retention during periods can cause people to gain about one pound and contribute to period bloating (7). If you are someone who craves sugar and snacks, eating more may contribute to weight fluctuations. What's more, the bloating can make your clothes feel uncomfortable, even if your weight hasn't changed.

  • Is it period bloating, or could I be pregnant?

Sometimes in early pregnancy, people may have no or minimal symptoms. One possible symptom is bloating (3, 18). If you think you may be pregnant and experience bloating, take a pregnancy test and/or contact your healthcare provider.

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an illustration of the Clue flower

Track your digestion symptoms in Clue to know when to expect them.

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