Period pain is the pits

If you have period pain, you’re not alone! Most women have experienced period pain. In fact, this is the most common gynaecological problem young women face. Those who get period pain usually find it starts during their teenage years, a few years after they start getting periods.

The intensity of period pain can vary, but the worse it is, the more impact it has on the ability to carry out normal daily activities, including getting to school, uni or work. It’s usually worst right at the start of your period, and gradually goes away over the next 2 to 3 days.

What causes period pain?

Period pain is caused by natural chemicals called prostaglandins that are released in the uterus (womb) during your period. Some women have higher levels of prostaglandins than others (although it’s not clear why) and are more likely to get period pain. Prostaglandins cause the muscles in the wall of the uterus to contract, which can be felt as a cramping pain. The levels are highest just before your period starts, which is also when period pain is most common and severe. After a day or two, the levels of prostaglandins fall, and the pain usually subsides.

Prostaglandins can cause more than just menstrual cramps

Not all period pain is the same

Actually, there are two types of period pain:

Primary dysmenorrhoea: This is the term for pain most women feel during their period. It usually starts one to two years after they begin having periods, and becomes less painful as they get older. A lot of women find that period pain becomes less of a problem after they have children or when they are on hormonal contraceptives, such as the pill, the patch or the ring.

Secondary dysmenorrhoea: This is period pain caused by a disorder in the reproductive system, such as adhesions, or fibroids. About one in ten women with period pain have secondary dysmenorrhoea. Unlike primary dysmenorrhoea, secondary dysmenorrhea tends to start at an older age and get worse over time. Also, the pain may begin before your period, last throughout your period, and persist even after the period is over.

Relieving period pain

There are many things you can do to relieve period pain:

  • Quit smoking: Smoking makes period pain worse, which is another reason to quit.
  • Eat a healthy diet: Cut down on coffee and alcohol around the time of your period, and try to avoid processed or fatty foods. Eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and fish, especially oily fish like salmon, tuna, and sardines, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise between periods is a good idea. During your period, try stretching exercises or walking to relieve the pain.
  • Pain-relieving medication: Pain relievers that reduce the effects of prostaglandins are very effective for period pain. These pain relievers are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (or NSAIDs for short) and include ibuprofen, the active ingredient in Nurofen. Because these pain relievers target the cause of period pain, they are more effective than a general pain reliever for relieving menstrual pain.
  • Supplements: Some people find that taking magnesium, fish oils, vitamin B1 or vitamin B6 can help with their period pain. Other supplements that can help include black cohosh, evening primrose oil, dong quai, and Vitex agnus castus.
  • Relax and take care of yourself: Relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, bed rest, and simple measures like using a hot water bottle or heat pack can be very effective. Herbal tea, such as ginger or mint, may help with nausea and bloating.

Is period pain anything to be concerned about?

For most women, having some pain during their period is just a natural part of life, and usually it goes away after a few days. However, you should check with your doctor if your period pain:

  • Isn’t relieved by pain medicines or other measures, and is interfering with your daily life and work.
  • Gets worse as you get older – this may be an indication something other than the normal menstrual cycle is causing your period pain.
  • Lasts longer than your period.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. Incorrect use could be harmful. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health related matters please contact your doctor.

This information is general in nature and not intended as a substitute for medical advice.

Always rely on your doctor for diagnosis and seek his or her advice if your or your child’s symptoms persist.

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  • MarjoribanksJ et al. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2010, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001751.
  • Proctor M, Murphy PA. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2001, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD002124.

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.

Always read the label. Use only as directed. Incorrect use could be harmful. If symptoms persist consult your healthcare professional.