Wellness

21 Period Myths That Need To Be Addressed ASAP

From how the weather affects your cycle to syncing up with your friends.
08/01/2018 12:19pm ET
Chatiyanon via Getty Images

There are a ton of questions about periods that exist out in the universe. For instance, is it true that spending time with a close female friend will cause your cycle to sync up with hers? Does your period really stop when you’re in water? And getting pregnant during your period is completely off the table, right?

You might be surprised at what’s fact and what’s fiction. Since knowledge is power ― especially when it comes to your body ― HuffPost asked some experts to set the record straight on questions like these and more. Here’s what you should know about your flow:

Do cramps get better with exercise?

Answer: They might.

You may have been told to hit the elliptical or go for a brisk walk to battle menstrual discomfort. Studies are inconclusive on whether this really alleviates the pain, but some experts say that getting your body moving does appear to help their patients cope.

“Each woman responds differently, but anecdotally I’ve seen exercise or movement reduce or eliminate cramps for most women,” said Nicole Jardim, a women’s health and period coach known to her clients as “The Period Girl.”

But don’t overdo it at the gym. “It’s important to honor the body’s need for rest and downtime during this time of the month,” Jardim added.

Can your period cause your voice to sound different?

Answer: Yes.

Strange but true! A 2011 study found “significant changes in voice characteristics during the time of menstruation,” according to researchers.

Should you avoid swimming in the ocean on your period because of an increased risk of shark attacks?

Answer: No. You’re fine.

“Sharks are attracted to blood, however, most women use tampons when swimming, which should protect from blood seeping out,” explained Jill L. Hechtman, an obstetrician-gynecologist and medical director at Tampa Obstetrics. She added that there are no published cases of shark attacks on women because of their period.

Does your period really stop in water?

Answer: No.

While we’re on the subject of water, let’s put this one to rest.

“Your uterine lining does not stop shedding while you’re in water, but period blood may temporarily slow down significantly or not flow out of the vaginal opening because the water stops it and the gravitational pull isn’t as strong as when you’re not in water,” Jardim explained.

Is it safe to ‘skip’ your period?

Answer: Yes.

It’s perfectly healthy to not get a period every month, Hechtman said. (And just think of the money saved on feminine hygiene products.)

“There are ways with certain hormonal treatments to safely and effectively skip your period, whether it’s with a birth control pill, IUD or other type of contraceptive,” Hechtman said.

However, if you’re sexually active and you normally get your period each month, if you skip it there’s a chance you might be pregnant. Take a test and consult a doctor if you think this may be the case. Other reasons your period may change include stress, dietary changes and activity level.

Can your period make you rack up credit card bills?

Answer: Yes ― and not just because you’re buying tampons.

If you’ve noticed that you’re more likely to splurge on those expensive shoes during “that time of the month,” you’re not alone. Research shows that women are more prone to impulsively spend money during the later part of their cycles.

“I have personally experienced this,” said Prudence Hall, founder and medical director of The Hall Center. She noted that this is also a way that PMS can manifest itself. “Women start to feel down during PMS so they go shopping to make themselves feel better,” she explained.

During your monthly cycle, can you bleed from other parts of your body?

Answer: Yes, but it’s somewhat rare.

Doctors once treated a 17-year-old girl who was experiencing bloody tears during her menstrual cycles. But before you freak out, know that this condition, called vicarious menstruation, is extremely rare.

Jardim noted, however, that women with endometriosis—“a painful condition that causes the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus to grow outside the uterus” ― can also experience nosebleeds, which are triggered by the same period hormones.

“This happens because endometriosis can grow in other areas including the lungs and nasal cavity,” Jardim explained.

Is it true that getting your period can trigger asthma symptoms?

Answer: Yes.

If you have asthma, you might notice that your symptoms worsen during that time of the month.

“Fluctuations in estrogen are partly to blame, but your body is also more sensitive to allergens and your lung capacity actually shrinks during your period,” said Jardim. This “perimenstrual asthma” affects between 19 percent and 40 percent of women with asthma.

Can you get pregnant during your period?

Answer: It’s possible.

“Sperm can remain viable after sex for approximately five days,” said Rachael L. Polis, a pediatric and adolescent gynecologist with Crozer-Keystone Health System.

Polis said the probability of getting pregnant during a menstrual cycle is low in a woman who has a 28-to-30-day (or longer) menstrual cycle. However, with shorter cycles, there is a greater chance of pregnancy.

“Ovulation determines pregnancy risk. Therefore, best to be safe and still use protection even during the menstrual cycle,” Polis said.

Can bleeding be a sign of early pregnancy?

Answer: It can.

“When an embryo implants into the uterine lining, this can lead to spotting (implantation bleeding),” explained Brittany Denny, a ProMedica OB-GYN.

Sometimes, women mistake this bleeding for an abnormally short and light period. “If you experience menstrual irregularities like this, don’t hesitate to take a home pregnancy test,” Denny said.

Does your cycle really sync up with your female friends’ cycles?

Answer: No, not really.

Some women swear that spending time with a female friend or roommate can cause this to occur. A 1971 study saw evidence of menstrual synchrony, however, a recent and more thorough study deemed cycle synching “very unlikely.”

Nadine Lyseight-Moodie, an OB-GYN with Dignity Health chalks hopping on the same cycle as your friends as “coincidence, happenstance, or plain old misery loves company.” Sorry, pals.

When you get your period, is your body cleaning itself out?

Answer: Definitely not.

“Getting your period is a sign that fertilization did not occur,” Hechtman said. “In the beginning of a cycle your hormone levels are increasing and the lining of your uterus is building up.”

If you ovulate and fertilization does not occur, your hormone levels drop, and the uterine lining sheds itself, resulting in your period. Then the whole process starts again.

Do you have to deal with heavy periods?

Answer: No. Get it checked out if it seems problematic.

“Heavy periods can be a sign of something wrong,” Hechtman said.

If your periods are abnormally heavy, she suggests getting them checked out by your OB-GYN. “Your doctor will take a thorough history and do a physical exam. They should be able to identify the issue, and treat the problem,” she said.

Is it bad to have sex during your period?

Answer: Definitely not.

It might get a little messy, but your cycle shouldn’t stop you from having fun with your partner if you’re both down for it.

“Your period can be a natural lubricant so there is also an added bonus!” said Navya Mysore, a family medicine doctor with One Medical in New York.

Another reason not to miss out? Orgasms can make your cramps feel better by “releasing pelvic congestion,” the blood flow in the pelvis, Hall said.

Do you experience brain fog during your period?

Answer: Yes.

According to Hall, a woman has low estrogen levels a few days before and during her period, as opposed to the rest of the cycle, when hormone levels are higher.

“With a low estrogen level during this part of her menstrual cycle, brain function can become less focused and more foggy,” Hall explained.

Can your period cause temporary anemia?

Answer: Sure can.

Polis said the average blood loss per menstrual cycle is 30 milliliters ― around two tablespoons ― but it can be higher. A chronic loss of greater than 80 milliliters can cause anemia.

“Most women are unable to quantify their blood loss through a measurement, but there are a few signs to look for,” Polis said. “Menstrual cycles that last longer than a week, require changing a pad or tampon every one to two hours, or result in passing clots greater than the size of a quarter, could all be indicative of heavy menstrual bleeding, and subsequent iron deficiency anemia.”

If you are experiencing any of these scenarios, it’s important that you talk to your doctor.

Will your period stop if you are too thin?

Answer: Yes.

“You need a certain body fat percentage and BMI to menstruate,” Hall said.

Women who lose weight and have a dangerously low body mass index (less than 18.5) may experience an absence of menstrual periods, which is called amenorrhea.

Is menstrual blood different than regular blood?

Answer: Nope.

“Blood is blood!” Hechtman said. “Sometimes it appears darker than others. The darker the blood, the older it is.”

Does the weather affect how severe your period is?

Answer: Yes.

A 2011 study found that ovarian activity is greater in the summer compared with the winter months. Based on the data, sunshine and warm weather can cause a higher frequency of ovulation and may shorten menstrual cycles by 0.9 days on average. The temps could also affect how you feel on your period.

“Women have reported to me that they experience more period-related symptoms in the wintertime ― more physical and emotional PMS symptoms and more period pain,” Jardim said.

She hypothesized that this could have to do with lower-than-normal vitamin D levels and low thyroid function (which is likely exacerbated by low outside temps). “Low thyroid is linked to heavier periods, and more period pain,” she explained.

If you have irregular periods, will you have a difficult time getting pregnant?

Answer: Not necessarily.

If you have trouble with a consistent cycle, don’t fret yet over what that might mean for your fertility.

“There are also other reasons for you to have irregular periods when you get older,“ Hechtman said. “Talk with your doctor but you should not worry that you will have a difficult time getting pregnant just because your periods are irregular. Some women will have infertility and irregular periods, but for the most part these two do not go hand in hand.”

Is it bad if your cycle is longer than 28 days?

Answer: No. It can be normal.

According to Denny, the normal menstrual cycle is 21 days to 35 days long, with the average being 28 days. This is because the average woman ovulates every 14 days. The length between will also tend to shorten, as you get older, said Hall.

“Changes in stress level, activity level, and diet can all affect your cycle length,” Denny added. She recommended meeting with your OB-GYN to discuss further if you find that your cycles are lasting outside of the “normal” range.

Is it true that the ‘period’ you get while taking hormonal birth control isn’t a real period?

Answer: Technically, yes.

According to Denny, taking birth control pills prevents your body from having normal hormonal fluctuations. This means you do not ovulate. However, the drop in hormones that happens during your “sugar pills,” or placebo pills, mimics the natural hormone withdrawal that happens before your period.

“It is this drop in hormone levels that causes your body to shed the lining of your uterus and have a period,” Denny explained. So it is still a “real” period that you are experiencing; your body just doesn’t ovulate to cause it.

The more you know!

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