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Period Pain

Adult Female Free from Period Pain Cycling in Sunny Beach with Male

Period Pain & Menstrual Cramps

What is period pain?

Period pain, also known as menstrual cramps or even period cramps (or dysmenorrhea), is a normal and common part of a women’s menstrual cycle. Pain is typically felt as a muscle cramp in the stomach, which can often spread to the back and thighs.1

For some women, period pain (or menstrual cramps) can be severe enough to interfere with everyday activities, while for others, it is merely just an annoying discomfort.

What are the common period pain symptoms?

Period pain symptoms can differ from one individual to another. Some common period pain symptoms may include: 3

  • Dizziness
  • Dull constant pain to intense spasms
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Pain radiates into the lower back and thighs
  • Throbbing or cramping pain in the lower abdomen

What causes period pain?

Common causes of period pain

Period pain occurs because of the muscular wall of the womb tightening/contracting. 4 During a period, the womb starts to contract vigorously to shed the womb lining as part of the monthly cycle.5 As the wall contracts it compresses the blood vessels that line the womb. Ultimately, this cuts off the blood supply, which in turn decreases the oxygen supply to your womb.6 Due to decreased oxygen levels, the tissues in the womb begin to release chemicals that trigger pain. This is what causes period cramps/menstrual cramps leading to period pain. 7

In addition to these pain-triggering chemicals, the body also produces chemicals called prostaglandins. This chemical further encourages the muscle contractions of the womb, which increases the level of period pain experienced. 8

What is Normal Period Pain?

Period pain differs from one individual to another. Many health care professionals believe that this is because all women have different abilities in processing prostaglandins levels.

How long does period pain last?

Period pain length is dependent on the individual. Either it can start at the first shedding of blood or it may begin several days before the start of the period. Period pain will normally last for 48 to 72 hours, with the pain being the worst when bleeding is at its heaviest.9

How can you relieve period pain?

Period Pain Relief

Numerous methods can be used to provide period pain relief. These include:

  • NSAIDs like Ibuprofen can provide period pain relief. They are used to help relieve mild to moderate pain and to reduce inflammation and they can provide period pain relief for hours10
  • Exercise – Keeping active can reduce the pain as it releases endorphins, which are feel good chemicals that reduce pain and muscle aches11
  • Heat – Placing a heat pad or hot water bottle on the stomach may help reduce pain as it stimulates blood flow12
  • Massage – massaging the stomach lightly can also reduce period pain
  • Relaxation techniques – Participating in relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation or Pilates may be used as a technique to distract you from feeling discomfort and pain13
  • Prescription Medication – A doctor may recommend prescription medication
  • Dietary Supplements - Numerous studies show that taking vitamin B-1 (Thiamine), vitamin E, vitamin B-6, omega-3 fatty acids and magnesium supplements reduces period pain14

Alternative Treatment

Alternative treatments for period pain have not been well studied. However, some may help with period pain relief including: 15

  • Acupuncture
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – A TENS device is connected to the skin with adhesive patches that deliver electric currents to stimulate nerves
  • Herbal medicines
  • Acupressure – Gentle pressure is applied to the skin on certain points to reduce period pain

What are the complications associated with period pain?

Although period pain does not cause any other medical complications, it can interfere with school, work and social activities.

When to See the Doctor

Make an appointment to see your GP if you have severe period pain or your normal period pattern changes, e.g. if it is irregular or heavier than usual. 16

References:

  1. 1 National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
  2. 2Mayo Clinic, Menstrual Cramps, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/definition/con-20025447
    1. 3Mayo Clinic, Menstrual Cramps, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017],http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/symptoms/con-20025447
    2. 4National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      1. 5National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017],http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      2. 6National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      3. 7National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      4. 8 National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      5. 9 National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      6. 10Drugs.com, Ibuprofen, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], https://www.drugs.com/ibuprofen.html
      7. 11 Livestrong, Exercises that Relieve Menstrual Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.livestrong.com/article/383108-exercises-that-relieve-menstrual-pain/
      8. 12 National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx
      9. 13Livestrong, Exercises that Relieve Menstrual Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017],http://www.livestrong.com/article/383108-exercises-that-relieve-menstrual-pain/
      10. 14Univeristy of Maryland Medical Center, Menstrual Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2014], http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/menstrual-pain
      11. 15Mayo Clinic, Menstrual Cramps, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menstrual-cramps/basics/symptoms/con-20025447
      12. 16National Health Services, Period Pain, [Accessed 24 Jan 2017], http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Periods-painful/Pages/Introduction.aspx