As the UK swelters in a heatwave – anyone else working from home in their undies?? – we're willing to try just about anything to keep ourselves cool. But, no matter how much time we spend with our face pressed up against the fridge, some circumstances mean it's really difficult to keep cool when the temperature is so hot. Yep, we're talking about periods.
With the current heatwave set to last for a few weeks, it's likely that some of us will have our period at some point during this time. Understandably, the thought of bleeding for a week and having a sweaty sanitary pad stuck to your pants in this heat doesn't sound ideal. So, how can you survive the heatwave when you're on your period?
"Some studies have found that menstrual cycles are affected by sunshine," Dr Sesay explains. "There is a link between vitamin D exposure and increased production of follicular stimulating hormone (FSH), which leads to higher ovarian activity. This can make menstrual cycles shorter so periods are more frequent and often longer."
The expert continues: "Having said this, hot weather in itself is not said to directly impact your period." However, Dr Sesay points out, several factors can certainly aggravate the symptoms already associated with periods:
Lifestyle changes during summer months – "our habits, activities, routines, sleep schedule, dietary changes and alcohol intake can all have an impact on your hormone levels which then affect your cycle and in turn, your periods"
Body temperature changes due to hormonal fluctuations associated with your cycles – "the rise in progesterone in the luteal phase leads to a slight increase in body temperature that usually persists leading up to your period. Having this whilst it's already hot serves as double whammy"
"There is often increased irritability and mood changes which occur with periods, again due to all the hormonal fluctuations and responses during your cycle," Dr Sesay adds. "This, coupled with the heat, can contribute to dehydration, headaches, fatigue and sleep disturbance [which can] further exacerbate symptoms and can make the perception and experience of period pain/cramps even worse."
Now that we understand some of the reasons why being on your period during a heatwave can be a literal nightmare, what can we do to make the whole situ more comfortable?
How to cope in a heatwave on your period
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate!
"Ensure that you are drinking plenty of water to prevent dehydration, which in itself can worsen headaches, water retention/bloating, constipation and fatigue," Dr Sesay advises. "Setting reminder alarms to drink water or even having refillable water bottles with reminders may help."
Avoid caffeine and alcohol
On the topic of staying hydrated, Dr Lee points out that caffeine and alcohol are: "Not good news in the heat. Both are diuretics and can make dehydration worse."
She also notes that both caffeine and alcohol can trigger a migraine, and reminds us that "hangovers are often worse when drinking in the heat."
Try and eat healthily
"We know that certain foods like spicy/oily/junk/canned and processed foods can affect your cycles and aggravate period symptoms," Dr Sesay notes. "Opt for more fruits and vegetables, anti-inflammatory foods like oily fish, also potassium rich foods and avoid foods high in salt as that would increase water retention/bloating and worsen dehydration. Replenish nutrients being lost during your period for example by having more iron-rich foods."
Wear breathable fabrics
"To help stay cool, wear breathable fabrics, with a particular emphasis on what you wear around your vulvo-vaginal area," Dr Sesay tells us. "You want to avoid things that could cause excessive sweating in the area or anything that may alter your balanced vaginal pH – using sustainable period products like breathable period pants instead of pads, or menstrual cups instead of tampons, may help but remember to do what works best for you."
Remember to frequently change period products throughout the day (according to instructions), as "bacterial infections are more common in the heat", Dr Lee adds.
If possible, try and get some exercise in (nothing too strenuous – light stretches would suffice)
"Exercise can boost your endorphin level – the natural feel good hormone which helps to improve your mood but also has an additional benefit of blocking pain receptors in the brain to ease period pain/cramps," Dr Sesay points out.
Improve your sleep
"Now is the time for blackout blinds, a dark eye mask, a fan in the bedroom and a hot water bottle filled with cold water, put in the freezer and then in the bed!" Dr Lee advises, adding that having wind-down time before bed is key. "Have a cool bath or shower before bed. Keep the lights dim, and no blue-light devices for two hours before trying to sleep as blue light stops the production of melatonin."
Don’t forget to be sun safe too!
"UV radiation exposure causes skin cancer, skin ageing, eye damage, hyperpigmentation and it even affects our immune system. Protect yourself by wearing UV protective sunglasses and clothing as well as wide-brimmed hats, check the daily UV index so you are prepared, stay in the shade and always, always, always use SPF 30 and above (and don’t forget to re-apply)!" emphasises Dr Sesay.
This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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