Most women are all too familiar with the moodiness, food cravings, cramps and bloating that accompany their monthly menstrual cycle. But for many women suffering from inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD), including Crohn's disease, their symptoms appear to be worse. Although research hasn't shed much light on the reasons why, there does appear to be a link between hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle and an increase in symptoms. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, some women with IBD feel worse right before and during their menstrual periods than at other times of the month and experience more severe bouts of diarrhea and abdominal pain.

Some evidence points to fluctuations in the hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone and an increase of the hormone-like substance prostaglandin, which is instrumental in such body functions as the contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle, during the monthly cycle as the likely cause of greater gastrointestinal problems.

How to Find Relief

If you suffer from Crohn's disease or another inflammatory bowel disease, don't despair. There are remedies available to help you tame your monthly menstrual symptoms. But before using any over-the-counter or prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and aspirin for symptoms like headaches and cramping, check with your doctor. Some of these drugs can exacerbate your symptoms, because they can irritate your digestive system and cause bleeding.

Depending on your specific symptoms, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following remedies:

  • Oral contraceptives-Birth control pills prevent ovulation and block high premenstrual levels of progesterone, easing bowel problems during menstruation.
  • Evening primrose oil-Evening primrose oil (EPO) is often used in controlling symptoms associated with premenstrual syndrome (PMS). The herbal supplement also contains a powerful prostaglandin blocker and high levels of gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an omega-6 essential fatty acid, which has been shown to reduce inflammation. But before you run to your local health food store to pick up a bottle, be aware than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not regulate herbs and supplements, so there is no guarantee that the product you buy is pure or safe. Ask your doctor for recommendations on the best products available, if EPO may be helpful in reducing your PMS symptoms and what the most effective dose is for you.
  •  PMS medications-A class of drugs known as SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) may also provide some relief from severe symptoms of PMS.