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Menstrual cramps and relief

Menstrual cramps are a common type of pain during periods and may be called dysmenorrhoea by doctors.

Cramps are usually first experienced a year or two after starting having periods - starting menstruation.

The pain can be mild or severe - and is usually felt in the lower abdomen or back.

The cramping often begins just before or at the start of the period.

Cramping can become less painful with age and may stop after having a baby.

Cramping and pain from conditions affecting a woman's reproductive organs is called secondary dysmenorrhoea. This usually begins earlier in the menstrual cycle and is longer lasting than primary menstrual cramps.

Symptoms of period pain

Pain during a period 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 painful periods, and where there is pain, some months may be more painful than others. Pain may also change over a woman's lifetime, with more discomfort 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 the 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 pain during menstruation?

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.

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

Causes of secondary dysmenorrhoea can include:

Endometriosis: A condition where tissue lining the womb 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.

Relief from pain during periods

Menstrual cramps and pain may be relieved with:

  • Over-the-counter painkillers, including ibuprofen or aspirin. Aspirin is not suitable for anyone under 16 years old. 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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