Menstruation, or having your period, is a common, monthly occurrence for women and many also experience pain and discomfort on a regular basis.
Period pain, also known as dysmenorrhoea, is pain that usually occurs in the lower abdomen during your menstrual cycle. Your body produces prostaglandins, chemicals that are responsible for uterus contractions which help shed the lining of the uterus. For some women though, these contractions can be strong and painful.
But period pain is normal, right?
You’ve probably gone your entire life being told that period pain is normal and that you have nothing to worry about. While that is the case most of the time, it’s important to be aware that your period pain may be the cause of an underlying medical condition.
There Isn’t Just One Type
of Period Pain
When talking about period pain, there are two types that differentiate between natural period pain, and severe pain that could lead to a medical condition.
This refers to the common and natural type of period pain most women feel.
This pain typically starts when you get your first period or a few years afterwards. When menstruating, the pain usually starts a few days before your period or on the first day of your period. Primary dysmenorrhoea can feel like cramping and gripping, heaviness, or a constant ache typically in your lower abdomen, but can also occur in your upper abdomen, lower back, and thighs.
You can manage this pain with pain medications, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, or the contraceptive pill. Other methods to relieve period pain include exercise and using a heat pack or hot water bottle on the area.
Refers to the more severe type of period pain and is usually caused by an underlying medical condition.
- Endometriosis is a medical condition where the cells that line the uterus are found in other parts of the body, causing mild to severe pain, and typically affects fertility.
- Adenomyosis is similar to endometriosis, where cells that line the uterus are found elsewhere. However, in this case, those cells are in the muscle wall of the uterus, causing severe pain.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease is usually caused when a sexually transmitted infection (STI) that has been left untreated spreads from the vagina to the upper reproductive organs.
- Fibroids are growths that form within the uterine wall and can cause heavy bleeding, and sometimes pain.
Time to Speak to a Professional
All this information can be very overwhelming. If you’re unsure about what’s causing your period pain and whether you should see a doctor, ask yourself some of these questions:
- Do you feel pain during sexual intercourse?
- Have you started getting period pain when you haven’t had it in the past?
- Is the pain so severe that over-the-counter painkillers don’t help?
- Is your period pain becoming more severe?
- Do you feel pain when going to the bathroom?
- Does your period pain last longer than it used to?
- Are you experiencing period pain-like symptoms outside of your period? (E.g., a few days at a time every week or fortnight).
- Are you bleeding between periods and/or having irregular periods?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, request a referral from your GP to our all-female team at Northside Gynaecology to discuss treatment options.
It's Important to Speak to a Gynaecologist
In conjunction with your medical advice, here are some at-home pain relief options:
While you can’t exactly stop the pain, some at-home methods can help relieve it.
- Gentle exercise. Let’s be honest – exercise is often the last thing anyone wants to do when on their period. But funnily enough, research shows that light to moderate exercise helps reduce period cramping. Think of exercises like walking or jogging, swimming, light cycling, or yoga. Exercise improves blood circulation and helps to burn the prostaglandins by producing analgesia (pain relief).
- You might think that meditation requires setting yourself up on the floor with a yoga mat, candles, music, and sitting upright with a straight back – all things we would rather not do when on our periods – but that’s not always the case. While you can meditate this way if you prefer, the art of meditation is really just formal relaxation. Lay down on the lounge or your bed, close your eyes, and take some deep and calming breaths, making sure to clear your mind. When experiencing period pain, it’s common to become stressed even if you don’t realise it, and stress can actually make period cramps worse. Meditation techniques can help relieve this unwarranted stress, and in turn, relieves some of that uncomfortable period pain.
- Heat pack or hot water bottle. Research shows that heat therapy can help in relieving period pain. Heating packs can help in releasing the tension from the tight uterus muscles that cause period cramps by improving blood flow. You can easily use a makeshift heating pack by filling a water bottle with hot water and wrapping it in a towel.
- Warm bath or shower. As with the heating packs, a warm shower or bath can also help ease period cramps by relaxing the abdominal muscles. Baths are preferable as your abdomen is submersed in the hot water, and you can even add some Epsom salts which also help with muscle relaxation.
- An Australian study from 2017 showed that women having acupuncture treatments noticed improvements in their period pain severity. Acupuncture promotes relaxation and alleviates stress, stimulates nerves in muscles and other tissues, and helps in releasing endorphins. It’s always recommended to speak to a doctor about acupuncture therapy first.
Ensure you book an appointment with Northside Gynaecology to investigate if your period pain is an indication of an underlying health condition.