Symptoms and Signs of Menstruation

7 signs your period may be coming.

By paying attention to your body, you can learn how to recognise when your period is going to start.

If you are a meticulous timekeeper (or you use one of these clever period tracker apps), then you probably know when to expect your period. But for the rest of us, it can come as a surprise as we often miss common warning signs such as mood swings, bloating, food cravings and fatigue. 

As you can see from the graph below, estrogen and progesterone hormones take a dive in the week leading up to menstruation which can lead to premenstrual syndrome (PMS) signs – these signs are an indication you are going to start your period.

Menstrual Cycle Hormones

Menstrual cramps

Pain in the lower abdomen or back is one of the first symptoms your period is on its way. Dysmenorrhea, as it is also known, is one of the most common symptoms often starting a few days before you see any menstrual flow. The severity of cramps varies from person to person and can last for two to four days. Gentle exercise, over the counter pain medication, massage, or a heat pack can ease cramps but see your GP if you experience server period pain as it may be an indication something else isn’t quite right.


Fluctuating hormones may also trigger a breakout just before you menstruate and this may be worse in teenage years. Your skin may become oilier which results in clogged pores which can cause acne. Severe acne is treatable with the help of a dermatologist but for less serious cases, a simple cleansing routine should be followed twice daily.

Mood swings and irritability

Experiencing intense emotional feelings or mood swings is quite common. These can include feelings of irritability, anger, depression, anxiety, sadness and being oversensitive. For mild mood swings, it’s best to ride it and know that your estrogen and progesterone levels will return to normal. Follow a healthy diet and if possible, avoid stressors at this time. It can also help to tell your loved ones that you have PMS and that you need a little more space, support and rest during this time. If you experience server mood swings or feelings, it’s important you speak to your doctor.

Food cravings

This is particularly true for junk foods. It’s believed we are more likely to crave carbohydrate-dense salty, fatty, sugary foods like chocolate and chips as our oestrogen and progesterone levels rise then subside again during the premenstrual phase. Another theory is that our bodies response to insulin is altered during this phase which makes us crave sweet food. Mood swings, irritability and generally feeling down can also cause us to crave certain foods. It’s ok to indulge a little but try to keep food cravings in check. Eat wholemeal carbs and vegetable, don’t skip meals and maintain a healthy, balanced diet.

Bloating and period poos

Bloating or general gastrointestinal discomfort can occur in the run-up to your menstruation. Many people experience a change in their bowel movements, with some experiencing diarrhoea and others constipation and some experiencing one then the other. Reducing salt, fatty foods and dairy as well as increasing your fruit and vegetable intake may be beneficial in restoring some balance to your bowel.

Breast tenderness

Breast pain is attributed to hormones which cause breast ducts to enlarge and milk glands to swell. Wear a supportive bra during this time, especially when exercising. Most breast tenderness and swelling will remedy itself however you should see your GP if your breasts are lumpy or painful after your period, if you have any nipple discharge or if the breast pain prevents you from sleeping or carrying out day to day activities.  


Changes in hormones may make you tired and also prevent you from having a restful night sleep. Fatigue commonly comes with insomnia and an inability to get a good night’s rest. Eat smaller, more frequent meals and meals containing protein to maintain energy levels during the day and try and do a little exercise. At bedtime; have a warm bath, practise meditation or deep breathing or listen to relaxing music to help you relax.

It’s perfectly normal to experience any of these symptoms - by starting to listen to your body and paying attention to these signs, you may find that you're better prepared for your period and know when to pop a pantyliner in your underwear or slip into a pair of absorbent period underwear. Always remember to take good care of your body and see a medical professional if any of these symptoms are severe.

Menstrual Island

Illustration: Gemma Correll