Painful periods

Everything you need to know about the causes and treatments for painful periods
What causes painful periods?

When you experience period pains you're actually feeling mini uterine contractions. These occur throughout the menstrual cycle but are more pronounced during menstruation as they help to shed the lining of your uterus.

Medically, painful periods are known as dysmenorrhoea. There are generally considered to be two root causes for this menstrual related discomfort; primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea.

Primary dysmenorrhoea

For most women the aches and cramps experienced during a period are simply a side effect of the normal menstrual cycle. This is known as primary dysmenorrhoea as the womb and reproductive system are healthy and there is no underlying cause for the discomfort experienced.

Secondary dysmenorrhoea

Secondary dysmenorrhoea is far less common and refers to painful periods that are caused by an underlying medical condition. Endometriosis, fibroids, pelvic inflammatory disease and adenomyosis are all conditions that list painful periods as a side effect.

Generally, if you have suffered with painful periods since puberty there is unlikely to be an underlying problem. However, if you have recently noticed a change in your menstrual cycle or your periods have become significantly more painful over time, it is possible that an underlying medical condition is the reason.

What are the symptoms?

While period pains are characterised by abdominal cramps there are a number of other symptoms typically experienced during menstruation. These include:
  • Aching in the lower back and inner thighs

  • Headaches

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea

  • Diarrhoea

  • Lightheadedness

  • Bloating

  • Mood changes
Typically, the most severe symptoms are experienced when menstrual bleeding is at its heaviest.

How to treat painful periods

Unless an underlying medical condition is causing you to experience particularly painful periods it's usually possible to relieve the discomfort with remedies at home.

'Treatments' you can try include:
  • Heat - Placing a warm hot water bottle on your lower abdomen may help to relieve some pain. You may find that taking a warm bath or shower will also help.

  • Exercise - Exercising regularly throughout your menstrual cycle can help to relieve painful periods and while you may not feel like doing anything at 'that time of the month' it's still a good idea as even some gentle walking or yoga will make all the difference.

  • Massage - Lightly massaging your abdominal area may help to relieve some of the discomfort you're feeling.

  • Pain killers - Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and asprin have been shown to be most effective at relieving period pain so if you're suffering badly they're worth a shot.

  • TENS - TENS machines can also be used to help relieve period pains and many women find them to be particularly effective.
When should I see the doctor?

You should consult your doctor for further advice if...
  • you are experiencing severe period pains

  • your periods have become significantly more painful

  • your periods are irregular

  • you experience bleeding between periods

  • you find sex painful

  • you notice thick or odorous vaginal discharge

  • you notice a large number of clots in your menstrual bleed

  • you have a sudden, severe pain your abdomen
Will painful periods affect my fertility?

This really depends on whether there is an underlying condition that is causing you to experience particularly painful periods.

Conditions such as endomeriosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or fibroids can make conceiving more difficult, however there are a number of treatments that are now able to help. Should you be diagnosed with secondary dysmenorrhoea your doctor will be able to explain the options available to you.

Whether you have a pain relief remedy that you can share with others or just fancy a chat, why not visit the AskBaby forums?

Chat or Ask a Question:

If you have a question about this article or something else, visit our friendly forums & ask the AskBaby community.

Chat about painful periods with our friendly community...

Your Comments:

We'd love to hear your comments on this article...

Login to add your comment:

Email: Password:
Not yet a member? Join thousands of other parents and parents-to-be... Sign Up Now!
Forgot your

hi. am still new here. i always have headaches and experince bloating during my periods. i had exams and got no fibroids or any medical problem. what can i do to solve this problem?
by Mashushu 15th Sep 2010, 3:02pm
since i started my periods i have had minor period pains within the first 48hrs. on 11th july 2009 i started taking pregnacare original and oddly, i had no period pains when i came on this month. did the pregnacare tablets help or was it just luck?
by sylviaandjames 4th Sep 2009, 10:52am
Some times the week before my period is due, after having an orgasam, I get abdominal cramps and suddenly start throwing up after sex??? It only lasts 5 minutes or so and then I'm fine. This doesn't happen all the time, just every so offen, but my husband has gone from finding it funny, to thinking he repulses me. Am I odd? Lucy x
by lucyeowen 28th Apr 2009, 10:25am