Period pain - pain that occurs during menstruation (monthly bleeding) - is extremely common. It is thought that three quarters of young women and up to a half of adult women experience some discomfort or pain during their period.
What causes period pain?
During your period your womb (uterus) contracts to expel its lining. These contractions temporarily compress the blood vessels that line the womb briefly preventing oxygen from reaching the womb's tissues. In response the womb releases chemicals called 'prostaglandins' which cause pain and inflammation.
How is period pain treated?
Period pain is normally at its worst when bleeding is at its heaviest. Most women find the pain improves as they get older, and also after they have had children.
- Period pain is commonly treated with Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) which help reduce inflammation and cure muscle aches. Common NSAIDS are ibuprofen and aspirin both available without prescription. Aspirin is not suitable for those under 16.
- Paracetamol, which is also available without prescription, may offer some relief but is not as effective as a NSAID.
- If over-the-counter drugs aren't helping a doctor may prescribe other NSAIDs or codeine.
- Sometimes a combined oral contraceptive pill is prescribed to ease period pain. This thins the lining of the womb reducing the amount of (pain-inducing) prostaglandin chemicals that the body can release. If the lining of the womb is thinner, the muscles have less to expel so don't need to contract as much.
- If the period pains are very intense and do not respond to treatment - consult a doctor to check for any underlying conditions such as fibroids or pelvic inflammatory disease.
Alternative remedies & self-help:
- Exercising may sound unappealing when you are doubled over in pain, but many people find gentle activity, such as walking, does ease symptoms.
- Heat applied to your abdomen with a heat pad or hot water bottle can provide relief from painful cramps. A warm bath or shower is also effective and may help you relax.
- Relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation can distract you from feelings of pain and discomfort.
- Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS): A TENS machine works by releasing small electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves in your pelvic area, helping to block pain. The impulses are released through sticky pads (electrodes) that are placed on your skin. TENS machines are widely available from pharmacies and can be used at home.