Most women experience some form of period pain during their lifetime. The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhoea. The pain caused by menstruation is usually felt in your lower abdominal area, but can also spread to your back and thighs. Sometimes the pain comes in intense spasms, while at other times the pain may be dull but more constant.
Period pain usually starts when bleeding begins, although some women also feel pain several days before their period starts.
Period pain normally lasts for 12-24 hours, although in more severe cases it may last for several days. The pain is usually at its worst when your bleeding is heaviest.
Periods tend to become less painful as you get older.
Causes of period pain:
Most cases of period pain are a normal part of your menstrual cycle (primary dysmenorrhoea) and can usually be treated at home.
Less commonly, your period pain may be caused by an underlying medical condition (secondary dysmenorrhoea) such as Endometriosis, Pelvic inflammatory disease, Fibroids, Adenomyosis or Intrauterine device (IUD).
If you have secondary dysmenorrhoea, you may also have other symptoms, such as irregular periods, bleeding in between periods, thick or foul-smelling vaginal discharge and pain during sex
Most women affected by secondary dysmenorrhoea are between 30 and 45 years of age.
If you experience a significant change to your normal period pattern, see your GP to discuss your symptoms.
In most cases of period pain, your GP will either prescribe or advise you to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This type of medicine works for approximately seven in 10 women who have period pain.
You can buy some NSAIDs over the counter, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. If these NSAIDs are not effective, your GP may prescribe you an alternative NSAID, such as naproxen or mefenamic acid.
NSAIDs are not suitable for people with asthma, or those with stomach, kidney or liver problems. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid taking them. If you are not sure if NSAIDs are suitable, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
There are a number of ways you can treat your painful periods at home. Although you may not stop your pain completely, these measures can often help to ease or reduce it.
- Heat: applying heat to your abdomen can help to ease your pain. You could try using either a heat pad or a hot water bottle. If using a hot water bottle, make sure the water is hot, not boiling, as you may damage your skin.
- Warm bath or shower: taking a bath or shower can help to relieve your pain, while also helping you to relax.
- Massage: light circular massage around your lower abdomen may help to reduce pain.
- Relaxation techniques: you might want to try a relaxing activity, such as yoga or Pilates, to help distract you from feelings of pain and discomfort.
- Exercise: although you may not want to exercise while you are having a painful period, keeping active can help to reduce pain. Try some gentle swimming, walking or cycling.
- Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS): a TENS machine works by releasing small electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves in your pelvic area, helping to block pain. The impulses are released through sticky pads (electrodes) that are placed on your skin. TENS machines are widely available from pharmacies and can be used at home.