Period pain is completely normal, but there are some things to be aware. You’d be in the minority if you didn’t experience some degree of discomfort whilst menstruating. For most women, this pain feels like a bad tummy ache, but back pain and leg pain are also fairly common.
The cause of period pain
Period pain is caused by your womb contracting to push out the uterine lining. The muscles in the womb contract. This cuts off the oxygen supply for a short time as the blood vessel gets compressed. This in turn causes the release of pain-triggering chemicals, as well as prostaglandins which cause the womb to contract more. The more your womb contracts, the more pain you experience. If you suffer from unusually painful periods then you should seek help from your GP in the first instance.
Health conditions causing painful periods
In some cases, intense period pains can indicate an underlying health condition, which requires targeted medical treatment.
Common causes of bad period pain include:
- Endometriosis – this is where womb lining cells grow outside of the uterus, often on the fallopian tubes or ovaries. Endometriosis commonly causes pain throughout the month, becoming worse during your period.
- Fibroids – these are non-cancerous growths that develop inside the womb, causing heavy or painful periods, pain in the abdomen and back, and discomfort during sex.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease – this is an infection of the upper genital tract including the womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries that is almost always caused by a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia. Symptoms include pain in the abdomen and pelvis, pain during sex, abnormal vaginal discharge, and heavy, painful periods or irregular bleeding.
Treatment options for painful periods
If you’re struggling to cope with period pain, you shouldn’t suffer in silence. The conditions above can be treated and managed in a variety of ways – but even if you don’t have an underlying health condition, there are still some options to look into.
The simplest treatment is over-the-counter painkillers (ibuprofen and paracetamol are often effective). Many women also find that their periods become lighter and less painful after having the hormonal coil fitted or taking the combined contraceptive pill – good options even if you are not sexually active. Mefenamic acid and Tranexamic acid are effective non-hormonal treatments which are taken when your period is due on. These treatments help periods become lighter and can be obtained by prescription after seeing your GP. Exercise, massage and relaxation techniques can also be helpful.
Just remember that any noticeable changes in your menstrual cycle always warrant a visit to the GP.
Find out more about painful periods at the HSE site here.