Period pain

What period pain is and what you can do about it

Period pain is a totally normal part of your menstrual cycle. It’s something that most women experience to some degree and in most cases, it’s nothing to worry about. Indeed, it’s often expected, leading us to break out the painkillers, hot water bottle and chocolate. 

 

What is period pain?

When women are menstruating, the muscles around the womb are contracting in order to shed the lining and allow it to leave the body through the vagina as period blood. During this time, when the womb is contracting, the oxygen supply to the womb is cut off, releasing chemicals to trigger feelings of pain. This often causes stomach cramps which occur in the lower abdomen, and can also be felt in the lower back. 

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When is period pain not normal?

Not all women experience period pain equally. For some, it might only be a mild sensation and for others, it can be incredibly painful and have a significant impact on their daily life during menstruation. You may not always experience it to the same degree each month and women who are on the pill may not have pain at all, as the pill stops them from ovulating. 

In some cases, bad period pain can be a sign of an underlying condition. For example: 

  • Endometriosis: this is where endometrial tissue (the tissue which builds up in the womb during ovulation) grows elsewhere in the body and causes severe pain
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: this is an infection which causes inflammation in the womb, fallopian tube and ovaries
  • Fibroids: These are benign tumours which are found around the womb and usually go away on their own

It can be difficult to diagnose these conditions, particularly with endometriosis so if you are experiencing significant period pain, try recording your symptoms so that you can provide your GP with as much information as possible. 

 

Period pain and the coil

Women using the IUD (copper coil) may experience heavier and more painful periods. This is particularly likely to happen during the first year of using it. This is a common side effect of the IUD as it doesn’t contain hormones, so you still ovulate and have a natural period. 
 

How to treat period pain 

Period pain can be easily treated at home with painkillers, such as ibuprofen, aspirin or paracetamol. Ibuprofen tends to be more effective than paracetamol as it decreases inflammation. 

There are other home remedies you can try including: 

  • A heating pad or hot water bottle: holding it against your stomach can help to ease the pain and discomfort
  • Gentle exercise: being active has proven to help with period pain. Even just going for a walk, cycle or practising yoga
  • Quit smoking: smoking is linked to the increase of period pain, plus a host of other health problems 
  • Take a bath: the hot water can help to relieve the pain, in a similar way to a heating pad. It also has the benefit of relieving tension in other areas of your body and helping you relax 

 

Can period pain be a symptom of pregnancy?

During early pregnancy, it’s common to experience cramps similar to period pain. You may also experience some bleeding, but this will be like spotting and it won’t be the same as having an actual period. If you are experiencing period pain but you don’t get your period, or if it doesn’t last as long as usual, then it could be a sign of pregnancy. If you are worried or uncertain, take a pregnancy test and consult your GP. 

 

Sources

NHS> Period Pain: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/period-pain/

Healthline> PMS vs Pregnancy Symptoms: https://www.healthline.com/health/womens-health/pms-symptoms-vs-pregnancy-symptoms

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