If you suffer from period pain, don’t just grin and bear it. Severe period cramps not only affect your quality of life – they may actually be a sign of other reproductive health issues that need medical attention.
First off, what causes period pain?
To understand why we get a monthly period – and the cramps that accompany it – it’s helpful to appreciate what your body’s reproductive cycle is trying to achieve. Every month, your uterus (or womb) grows a thick lining with a rich blood supply so that a fertilised egg can implant and establish a pregnancy. If this doesn’t happen, your body produces chemical signals that make your uterine muscles contract to shed that lining from your uterus – this is your period. When the muscles of your uterus contract, it can cause a cramping sensation or pain in your lower abdomen. The chemicals that trigger the muscle contractions are called prostaglandins. Women have varying levels of prostaglandins (and differing sensitivity to them), which is why some women have pain-free periods and others suffer from debilitating cramps every month. Although it’s normal to experience some discomfort during your period, not all period pain is normal.
Is my period pain normal?
This is a tricky question, because pain is really subjective (meaning that everyone’s tolerance to pain is different). Here are a few questions that will help you get a sense of what is abnormal and when you should seek help.
How severe is the pain?
We can gauge how bad your pain is by understanding what you’d normally do to cope with it. If you need to take over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen or use a hot water bottle but then you can get on with normal daily life, you probably don’t need to worry about your period pain being abnormal. On the other hand, if your period causes you so much pain that you can’t play sport or you need a sick day, or if it is accompanied by vomiting, nausea or diarrhoea, that’s a level of pain you shouldn’t tolerate every month.
When does the pain occur?
There’s a window of time in which it is normal for period cramps to occur – it’s normal to feel pain or discomfort around one day before the bleeding starts, and for it to last another 2–3 days. Pain shouldn’t last longer than this, and you definitely shouldn’t have cramps when you don’t have your period.
Has the pain changed over time?
If you’ve always suffered from period pain, you may just have a ‘painful normal’. However, if you’ve only just started to have sore cramps or they are getting worse, you may be suffering from another condition that is actually causing the pain, or making it more intense. We call this secondary dysmenorrhoea – meaning that it is caused by something else – whereas primary dysmenorrhoea is the term used for common period cramps. Other symptoms that suggest you may have secondary dysmenorrhoea are:
- The pain occurs more to the sides of your abdomen (not centrally)
- You experience pain during sex
- It hurts to use your bowels or bladder, especially when your period is present.
Other health conditions can make period pain worse
Really bad period pain can be a symptom of some serious conditions that affect your reproductive organs. The most common of these are:
- Fibroids – these are benign (non-cancerous) growths on the inside of your uterus. Some fibroids don’t cause any symptoms and can be left alone, but others can cause heavy periods and severe menstrual cramps, in which case they can be removed.
- Endometriosis – this is a condition in which cells that belong in the lining of the uterus (the endometrial tissue) start to grow in other places, such as outside the uterus, the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. The tissue still grows, sheds and bleeds as it would in the uterus, but because it is not in the correct place, it can’t leave the body as it normally would (through your period). This causes bleeding and inflammation which, over time, can create scar tissue and cause pain or fertility problems. Read more »
- Adenomyosis – this is similar to endometriosis, but the uterus-lining cells start to grow into the uterine muscle. Every month this tissue bleeds as it would inside the uterus, but in this case blood enters the uterine muscle. Because of this, your uterine muscle has to contract even more than it normally would during your period to get rid of the blood, which can cause more severe cramping pains.
Having severe period pain doesn’t necessarily mean you have one of these conditions, but the sooner they are diagnosed the better. And if your pain is not due to a secondary condition, there are still ways to make your time of the month much easier to manage.
Menstruation shouldn’t be unbearable, period.
Period pain is a valid medical issue that can be treated. So, whether you’ve always suffered from your period and need help managing the pain, or your worsening cramps have you worried, call my rooms on (03) 9418 8299 or book online to make an appointment.
The information on this page is general in nature. All medical and surgical procedures have potential benefits and risks. Consult a healthcare professional for medical advice specific to you.