If your cramps and mood swings are on overdrive this month, you could have an STI and not know it.
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If your PMS is on overdrive this month, it might be thanks to an undiagnosed sexually transmitted infection (STI), says a new study in Evolution, Medicine & Public Health. Yep, as if crippling cramps and irrational mood swings weren't bad enough, you may have an STI to ice that cake.
Researchers in Berlin and Oxford found that before diagnosis, the presence of an infection such as chlamydia, herpes, or HPV doubled the likelihood of women reporting negative PMS symptoms like headaches, cramps, sadness, and high emotional sensitivity at various points throughout their cycle.
While that sounds bonkers to any sexually active singleton living in low-key fear of the ever-growing STI rate (BTW, numbers are at an all-time high—again), it's not all that surprising to doctors.
"Unlike men, women present atypically with STIs, often showing no overt symptoms before diagnosis," explains Natasha Chinn, M.D., an ob-gyn at Brescia & Migliaccio Women's Health in Hoboken, NJ. "She might just think she's just having a shift in her hormones and therefore a difference in PMS or mid-cycle pain."
As infections, all STIs cause inflammation (read: pain) and, that plus your body's natural immune response to this accounts for most of the exacerbated physical symptoms like pounding heads and painful cramps. A lesser-known effect: "The inflammatory effect on the body can trigger internal shifts in a person's emotions," says Dr. Chinn. The discomfort can cause a shift in the chemicals that your body produces to control your emotional state.
Early detection is important. Untreated STIs can spread and cause permanent damage over time, including pelvic inflammatory disease and infertility—not to mention the potential to spread it to others and drive those record-breaking STI rates even higher. (Related: An Emerging STI Superbug Could Pose a Threat to Your Health)
While this news sucks if you're thinking "this could be me," it's actually kind of good news. Since many women have no overt symptoms before an STI diagnosis, an unexplainable few days of heightened discomfort or emotional volatility at any point in your cycle is a strong sign you should head to your ob-gyn and get tested, says Dr. Chinn. That stands no matter your age or how monogamous your relationship.