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Period pain and menstrual cramps

Period pain and menstrual cramps are common for most women, and may be called dysmenorrhoea by doctors.

Symptoms of period pain

Period pain symptoms include:

  • Tummy pain
  • Cramping spreading to the back and thighs
  • Dull, constant pain
  • Painful spasms.

Period pain usually lasts 48-72 hours and is most painful during the heaviest amount of bleeding.

Not all women will have period pain, and where there is pain, some months may be more painful than others. Period pain may also change over a woman's lifetime, with painful periods in the teen years then easing with age before worsening again around menopause.

Normal period pain doesn’t affect fertility, but painful periods due to some health conditions may make it harder to get pregnant.

If period pain is caused by problems other than the usual monthly periods, some women may also experience:

Seek medical advice if periods become more painful or heavier than normal, or if you have other symptoms or concerns.

What causes period pain?

Normal period pain is caused by muscle contractions as the body gets ready to shed the lining of the womb each month. This process can affect blood and oxygen supply. This in turn causes chemicals to be released that trigger the feeling of pain and also encourage more contractions.

This is called primary dysmenorrhoea.

Period pain that's caused by other health conditions is called secondary dysmenorrhoea.

Causes of secondary dysmenorrhoea can include:

Endometriosis: A condition where womb lining tissue is found elsewhere in the body.

Fibroids (uterine fibroids): Growths that can develop in the womb, that can cause extra pain but are not a form of cancer.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID): An infection of the ovaries, fallopian tubes and womb causing inflammation and pain.

Adenomyosis: A condition causing unusual tissue growth in the womb.

Intrauterine device (IUD): Use of this form of contraception can lead to period pain to begin with after it is inserted.

Treatment for period pain

Treatments and tips to help ease monthly period pain include:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers, including ibuprofen or aspirin. Aspirin is not suitable for girls under 16. Doctors can also recommend stronger pain-relieving medication.
  • Comforting heat, such as a hot water bottle, warm bath or shower.
  • Gentle massage of the lower part of the tummy can help relieve pain for some women.
  • Relaxation techniques won't take away the pain but yoga or Pilates may help take away the focus on the pain.
  • Taking exercise – while your instinct is to curl up on the sofa with a hot water bottle, taking some gentle exercise may actually ease period pain.
  • TENS devices (transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation) may help reduce pain by delivering low-level electrical pulses through electrodes on the tummy.
  • The Pill or other hormonal contraceptive options may help monthly period pain for some women.
  • Quit smoking - experts say women who smoke are more likely to have painful periods.
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