Period pain: causes, treatment and prevention
Period pain, or menstrual pain, describes the pain that women feel in their lower abdomen just before or during their period. These pains, which are extremely common in women of child-bearing age, are generally worst during late adolescence and just before the menopause. They are usually short-lived, tend to get less severe over the years, and can be alleviated relatively easily. However, in some cases they can suggest a gynaecological problem such as endometriosis, so it is important to know how to identify the symptoms so that you know when to seek medical advice.
What are the symptoms of period pain?
Various symptoms can accompany period pain, with bleeding being the obvious one, but you may also have pain in your lower abdomen and/or back that may be felt as spasms or cramps, as well as headaches, nausea, vomiting, or a general feeling of weakness, for example. You may experience this pain before (called premenstrual pain) or during your period, and in some cases it can continue after your period has finished. It is generally more painful when your flow is at its heaviest and the experience varies between women, who may be more or less prone to menstrual problems.
What are the causes of period pain?
If an egg remains unfertilised at the end of the ovulation phase, your uterus (womb) will contract in order to shed its inner lining, which it no longer needs if you are not pregnant. The pain you feel when you have period pain is the result of these contractions.
However, sometimes this pain can be a sign of a more serious problem. Certain symptoms should be a cause for concern, for example, if you begin to experience period pain in adulthood, if it lasts for more than 2 or 3 days or continues after your period has ended, if it is not alleviated by non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or you have a fever at the same time. In these cases, it is a good idea to see a doctor as it could be endometriosis.
How to treat period pain?
If you have painful periods, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs usually helps to relieve the pain. There are also some other things you can try, such as massage or applying a source of heat to your abdomen. Your menstrual symptoms may also be improved by taking the oral contraceptive pill. If your pain is caused by a gynaecological problem, treating this underlying problem will help to relieve it.
Finally, some lifestyle changes can help to reduce your risk of getting period pain, such as giving up smoking, taking regular exercise, avoiding alcohol or coffee during your period, reducing your intake of refined sugars and hydrogenated vegetable oils, and minimising stress.