How To Manage Your Period When You're Sick Or During An Emergency
How Periods Are Affected By Illness & Emergencies
- Events like natural disasters and illnesses that tax your body can interfere with your regular flow, thanks to added stress on the body, both physically and emotionally.
- When sick, choose your period products wisely. You’ll want to think about how often you are able to change your product (longer-form solutions like period discs and cups may be best), your laundry capabilities, as well as recognize that if you’re bearing down from coughing, pooping, and/or vomiting, that your inserted period product may spill or fall out of place.
- During a hospital stay, your period product also matters. Some insertable products (like tampons) may not be allowed, while reusable menstrual cups’ cleanliness may be hard to maintain.
- Prep ahead of time for natural disasters by creating a period survival kit you can grab in a hurry.
The Full Read:
Have you ever thought about what you’d do if you had your period while ill or during a major emergency? Let’s get you ready, just in case! Here’s how such events can change your cycle, and how best prep for the possibility of a period while in peril.
We’ll walk you through:
- If you have a cold or flu / a stomach bug or food poisoning
- If you are practicing social distancing or in quarantine
- If you’re stuck in the hospital
- There’s a natural disaster
How Illnesses and Emergencies May Affect Your Cycle
While not all illnesses and emergencies will impact the menstrual cycle directly, the side effects sure can. Here are three main ways your cycle can be impacted, whether directly or indirectly:
- Dehydration. It’s easier to become dehydrated when you’re sick, as you lose more fluids than usual thanks to excess sweating, vomiting, and/or using the bathroom. According to naturopathic doctor and women’s health expert, Dr. Erica Matluck, the body responds to dehydration by doing its best to retain water. This can mean exacerbation of already-uncomfortable period symptoms like bloating and fatigue.
- Physical stress. Vomiting, diarrhea, extreme coughing…fun times! Not only do these symptoms increase your chances of dehydration as you rid your body of fluids (perhaps from both ends), but your hormones may also take a hit. Dr. Matluck shares that physical stress can increase cortisol levels, which means a potential suppression of the hormones we need to maintain our cycle: Estrogen and progesterone. So your period may be affected as your body gathers its resources to fight a common enemy.
- Emotional stress. The aforementioned scenarios can all be really scary! Dr. Matluck adds that when you feel emotional stress, your nervous system turns on the fight or flight response. As your physiology prepares for survival, reproduction becomes lower-priority. So, it’s common to experience cycle irregularities and/or skipped periods. Additionally, in one study, people who reported being stressed out prior to their periods had more severe menstruation symptoms such as cramping, headache, and fatigue, along with more severe psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression. (8)
Here are some things you can do to help support your body during these times.
How To Manage Your Period: For COLD & FLU
- Stay very hydrated. Swap your regular water for coconut water for some extra electrolytes. Consuming broth is another great way to support hydration while getting some extra minerals and nutrients.
- Take multivitamins. Since your appetite often wanes when you are sick, it can be harder to get all your needed nutrients via your food. Be sure your multi includes Vitamin D, magnesium, and zinc, as these nutrients can all provide some period symptom relief and support your immune system. (4) This works best if you take a multivitamin on the regular, not just when you’re feeling ill.
- Rest, rest, rest. Luckily, many people on their periods don’t feel much like running a marathon anyway. Give in! We are often forced to live our lives as usual, even while our uterus is contracting like crazy and blood is coming out of our vagina. Let yourself take this time off. You double deserve it.
- Pick your period products wisely. Since we’ve agreed you’ll be resting up, you'll want to think about which period products will feel uncomfortable to lie in for long amounts of time. For example, how does a period-soaked pad sound? You’ll also want to recognize that body aches and fatigue could make it harder for you to get out of bed to change your period product frequently. If so, tampons may be tough. Tampons are also easy to forget about, especially with irregular sleep patterns, and it could be easy to leave them in longer than the recommended time. Also worth asking yourself: Do you have enough period underwear or reusable pads without having to do laundry?
- Menstrual cups and menstrual discs work nicely when you’re down because you can wear them for up to 12 hours. Oh, and some report that menstrual discs help with their period cramps, as the flexible material moves with uterine contractions instead of pushing back against them. (6) Huge upside if you’re already suffering from other aches and pains.
Note to any cycle-trackers out there: If you use your temperature to track your menstrual cycle, days you have a fever should be skipped and noted so that they don't mess with your ovulation calculations.
How to Support Your Period While Practicing Social Distancing
- Self-care it up. Many people suffer from mental health issues connected to PMS. This can feel even more intense with the added fears that accompany a serious illness. Listen to meditation recordings, your favorite music, take baths if you can…self-care it up as much as you are able.
- Connect with others virtually. Being isolated because of your illness can also take a toll on your mental health. Now add PMS, and any related mental health issues on top of that. No fun. Use video chat platforms to stay connected to those you love... Heck, even those you like a little! (So long as they don’t trigger you.)
- Try that new product you’ve been eyeing. Since it will be much harder to go to the store or to find your usual products online, try out a few alternative period products from the comfort of your own home. This allows you to try something new that might have felt intimidating without worrying about leaking in public. (We’ve all been there!) Some products have a learning curve, so now’s the time to become a period pro and see which products work best for you. Menstrual cups are a great choice for this scenario because you won’t have to make a run to the store, you can wear it for long periods of time and reuse it for years to come.
- While tampons may be your go-to, they can disrupt your vaginal pH, which can cause an infection like yeast and/or B.V.. (6) This is definitely not something you want to add to your plate when you are stuck at home or already sick and find yourself in a quarantine situation. If you find yourself in one of these situations, try menstrual discs which are insertable, disposable, and can be worn for up to twelve hours at a time, without disruption to your vaginal pH.
- If you are sneezing or coughing heavily opt for liners, pads, or period underwear alone or as backup to your preferred product as they won’t fall out of place like inserted products can from the pressure when you cough or sneeze.
How To Manage Your Period: If You Have A Stomach Bug or Food Poisoning
- Keep those fluids comin’. Double down on hydration here, as vomiting and diarrhea tend to dehydrate your body quickly, ultimately disrupting its natural rhythm. In addition to trying coconut water, you can also add electrolyte supplements to your H2O. Avoid diuretics like alcohol and caffeine because, well, they’ll work against your hydration efforts!
- Pick your period product wisely. With all that vomiting and diarrhea, you will likely be bearing down quite frequently. This pressure may just be too much for your inserted period product to handle, and it could shift to a weird position or fall out completely.
- To save your precious period cup from landing in the toilet during a strong bout, you may want to consider a non-inserted product like pads or period underwear. You’ll already be running to the bathroom, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to swap out as needed, and as these bugs tend not to last too long, you may have enough underwear to get you through.
How To Manage Your Period: If You’re Stuck at the Hospital
- Communicate with your health team. You may be unable to change your period product on your own. They will take care of you, period and all!
- Pack your fave period snacks. Depending on the reason and length of your hospital stay, you’ll most likely encounter the hospital’s food at least once. Your options will be limited, so packing your favorite snacks ahead of time will give you a little piece of home and comfort (and likely be a welcomed break for your tastebuds).
- Pick Your Period Product Wisely. If you are going in for a major surgery or operation, tampons, or other inserted period products like menstrual cups and discs, are typically not allowed. (7) Instead, pads are a great option because the nurse can easily help you change them as needed. If you prefer organic ones, bring your own. Otherwise, the hospital will have them on hand. Period underwear is another alternative, but make sure you have enough to last you, as laundry won’t be an option.
- If you are not getting surgery and are able to use the bathroom on your own, tampons and menstrual discs are also good choices. We’d steer clear of bringing your menstrual cup to the hospital, as it can become another thing to worry about losing, and it is also harder to ensure its cleanliness over the entirety of your stay.
How To Manage Your Period: Preparing For A Natural Disaster
- Be a prepper. Emergency preparedness is key as, in the case of a global or natural disaster, you may not have very much time to get things together.
- Here is a survival kit with some emergency essentials we’ve put together for you:
- A menstrual cup, just in case, since the same one can be kept for years and worn for 12 hours at a time
- Disposable pads and/or tampons (as backup, or if no clean water is available)
- Hygiene wipes
- Clean underwear
- Roll of toilet paper
- Pick Your Period Product Wisely. Keep in mind that resources such as fresh water and privacy may be limited, and your risk for infection potentially higher (if you are inserting products inside of you).
- It may be that you are unable to use period products at all. Free bleed, baby! Free bleeding, aka not collecting or blocking your period blood, began as a movement to talk about and protest stigmas surrounding menstruation. (9) But in the case of a natural disaster, it may be your best bet to stay healthy and infection-free.
- If you’re left with zero period products but aren’t comfortable free bleeding, DIY period products can be made from toilet paper or paper towels, a clean sock, gauze from a first aid kit, cotton balls, or anything else that is relatively absorbent.
Consider yourself (and your period) totally prepped...for all occasions!
Written by: Clare McCammon // Medically Reviewed by: Dr. Heather Bartos, OBGYN
- “7 Conditions That Can Cause Sporadic Spotting Between Periods.” Mid-City OBGYN, September 9, 2019. https://midcityobgyn.com/posts/womens-health/7-conditions-that-can-cause-sporadic-spotting-between-periods/.
- “BRAT Diet for Nausea, Vomiting, or Diarrhea.” The Oregon Clinic. Accessed March 18, 2020. https://www.oregonclinic.com/diets-BRAT.
- “Dehydration.” MedlinePlus. U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 29, 2019. https://medlineplus.gov/dehydration.html.
- “Exercise, Diet & Periods.” The Royal Women's Hospital. Accessed March 27, 2020. https://www.thewomens.org.au/health-information/periods/healthy-periods/exercise-diet-periods.
- Khandakji, Samantha. “Out of Sight: Menstrual Hygiene and American Disasters.” Student Voices, April 2, 2018. https://www.mailman.columbia.edu/public-health-now/news/out-sight-menstrual-hygiene-and-american-disasters.
- “Period Products: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” UT Health Austin. Accessed March 17, 2020. https://uthealthaustin.org/blog/period-products.
- “Preparing for Outpatient or ‘Day’ Surgery.” Center for Young Women's Health, September 13, 2018. https://youngwomenshealth.org/2010/03/12/outpatient-surgery/.
- “Prior Stress Could Worsen Premenstrual Symptoms, NIH Study Finds.” National Institutes of Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 23, 2010. https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/prior-stress-could-worsen-premenstrual-symptoms-nih-study-finds.
- Sharkey, Lauren. “13 Things to Know About Free Bleeding.” Edited by Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN. Healthline, August 19, 2019. https://www.healthline.com/health/free-bleeding.
- Vitti, Alisa. “The 5 Ways Stress Affects Your Period.” Flo Living, March 15, 2018. https://www.floliving.com/5-stress-affects/.
- Vitti, Alisa. “When Stress Delays Your Period & How to Bring It Back.” Flo Living, December 16, 2019. https://www.floliving.com/when-stress-delays-your-period-and-how-to-bring-it-back/.