Explaining “Phantom Flow”

It always seems to happen at the worst time. You’re in class, working through a long meeting, or contending with a busy schedule, and suddenly you feel those telltale cramps that signal aunt flow has arrived. You rush your way to the bathroom with hygiene product in hand, ready to take care of business, only to find there’s not a single drop of blood.

How can that be? You swear you felt your period start, so how could it be possible that nothing is going on? This experience is a widespread phenomenon, and many people don’t know what it means. So, what is it that has you experiencing all of the symptoms of a cycle without your period actually beginning?

Symptoms

What does a “phantom flow” or “ghost period” do to your body? There are several symptoms to note:

  • Cramping

  • Bloating

  • Fatigue

  • Breast Tenderness

  • Mood Swings

  • General Discomfort

It can be scary to experience those symptoms without anything to show for it, especially if they are prominent. If you’re cramping severely, develop a fever, vomiting, or any other concerning symptoms, you should seek medical aid immediately. If everything feels like a typical period, but you don’t have any blood, it could mean several things.

Cycle Phases

One of the most straightforward answers is that your cycle has several phases where symptoms can occur. These symptoms are not always limited to when you are actively bleeding. The phases of the menstrual cycle are:

  • Menstruation: The shedding of the uterine lining and what causes the blood flow associated with periods.

  • Follicular: The uterine lining begins to thicken and creates follicles that mature and become an egg.

  • Ovulation: Once a follicle has matured into an egg, that egg will release in hopes of interacting with sperm so that it can fertilize.

  • Luteal: If there is no sperm to fertilize the egg, the egg will die, and the uterus’ lining will prepare to shed. At this point, the process starts over, and menstruation begins.

Throughout any of the menstrual cycle phases, you may start to feel bloated, cramped, or fatigued without really knowing why. This is because the body is already undergoing the preparation for fertilization or the next menstruation. Your body is simply reacting to the phases of your cycle.

PMS goes hand in hand with the time before menstruation and will generally cause bloating, cramping, and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with periods. In addition, if you’re experiencing PMS symptoms, you may find yourself more emotional and tender.

Underlying Conditions

A more concerning explanation to that “phantom flow” feeling is that you have an underlying condition causing your symptoms. Constant cramping and issues with bloating can be attributed to PCOS or IBS. If your symptoms pair with pain during penetrative sex, you may have endometriosis. Endometriosis is hard to diagnose without invasive surgery, so you will want to speak with your doctor. While these conditions sound scary, they are relatively common and can be treated once they’ve been diagnosed. Your doctor can help you find a regimen that works for managing your symptoms.

Your symptoms could also boil down to stress, hormonal or nutritional imbalances, or even your birth control. Your birth control will alter your cycle as it can shorten your period or change how the other phases of your cycle behave. You may be feeling familiar symptoms at times when you aren’t even close to menstruation.

If you are sexually active, you might want to consider the possibility of pregnancy. Tenderness, bloating, mood swings, and cramping can all be early signs of pregnancy, and if you think there is a chance you might be pregnant, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible.

What Else?

Our reproductive systems are constantly doing something. It isn’t uncommon for people who menstruate to have random aches and pains, but you should seek advice from a medical professional if they do get out of hand. Just remember not to stress, your body knows what it is doing, and if you feel any concerns, your doctor should help you sort them out.