Period pain? Here’s what women should know
- If you have period pain, you’re not alone! In fact, most women have experienced mild period pain.
- But some women have period pain so severe that it interrupts their daily living.
- Those who get period pain usually find it starts during their teenage years, soon after they start having menstrual periods.
Here are some things to know about period pain.
What are the symptoms of period pain?
Most women experience cramping pain with their periods. But some women may experience pain with other symptoms, including:
Period pain can impact your ability to carry out normal daily activities, including going to school or work. It’s usually worse when the period starts (or earlier), and tends to ease 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 at its worst. After a day or two, the levels of prostaglandins fall, and the pain usually subsides.
Women who started their periods at a young age (<12 years old), or experience heavy, irregular or long periods may be more likely to experience period pain. Other factors associated with painful periods include smoking, body weight, age less than 30 years and infection diagnosed by a doctor.
Relieving period pain
There are some ways you can help relieve your painful periods.
Exercise can increase premenstrual pelvic blood flow to delay the onset of period pain and relieve menstrual cramps. Furthermore, exercise can help to reduce stress, which is associated with increased contractions of the uterus and period pain. Therefore, exercise can help to relax your body physically and mentally to relieve menstrual symptoms including period pain.
Using heat, such as hot water bottles, are a common method for managing period pain. The heat can relieve painful periods and menstrual cramps by reducing muscle tension and relaxing the abdominal muscles. Heat can also increase pelvic blood circulation to relieve bloating and fluid retention, which can sometimes compress nerves and create pain.
Massage and aromatherapy
Aromatherapy may help painful periods when used as a relaxation technique. Some studies have suggested that having a massage in combination with essential oils may help to relieve painful periods more than a regular massage. It is possible that components of essential oils including linalool for lavender, menthol for peppermint, and fenchone for fennel, may have a pain-relieving effect when inhaled, massaged, or consumed. However further studies are needed to support this.*
Herbal and dietary therapies
While there’s no strong evidence for herbal and dietary therapies in relieving painful periods, some studies have explored using the following to manage period pain:^
- Fennel seeds
- Valerian or fenugreek
- Vitamin B1
- Fish oil
- Zinc sulphate
As evidence for using these therapies is limited, make sure you check with a healthcare professional before trying them.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet may reduce your risk of having painful periods. Evidence suggests that a diet with plenty of fish, fruits and fibre can reduce the intensity of period pain. Additionally, you should avoid unhealthy snack food, such as:
- Sugary snacks
- Salty snacks
- Tea and coffee
- Added salt
- Fruit juices
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.
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 or menstrual cramps:
- Are interfering with your day-to-day activities
- Are severe or get worse
- Are unusual or last longer than normal
It’s important to get help from a doctor, nurse or sexual health practitioner as they may need tests to rule out other causes.
*Lee MS, et al. J Clin Med 2018. ^Pattanittum P, et al. Cochrane Databse Syst Rev 2016.
Always rely on your doctor for diagnosis and seek their advice if you or your child’s symptoms persist.
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.
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