The technical term for period pain is dysmenorrhoea. It derives from an ancient Greek expression which literally means ‘difficult monthly flow’.
Facts about period pain
If you have dysmenorrhoea you are not alone. Around 80% of women experience period pain at some stage in their lifetime. You can suffer from period pain from your early teens right up to the menopause. Most women experience some discomfort during menstruation, especially on the first day. But in 5% to 10% of women the pain is severe enough to disrupt their life. If your mother suffered period pains, you are more likely to suffer too. In 40% of women, period pain is accompanied by premenstrual symptoms, such as bloating, tender breasts, a swollen stomach, lack of concentration, mood swings, clumsiness and tiredness.
There are two different types of period pain:
This commonly occurs in teenage girls and young women, towards the beginning of menstrual life. The cramping pains are caused by the womb contracting to shed its lining. There may also be pain caused by the decreased supply of blood to the womb. The pain is mainly in the lower part of the abdomen but can go into the back and down the front of the thighs. Some women feel nauseated at the same time. It is a perfectly natural condition and for many women is simply a mild monthly discomfort. Primary dysmenorrhoea can be eased with the contraceptive pill as well as some relaxation techniques.
This may not start until your mid-twenties or later. It is unlikely to cease after childbirth. The pain is not restricted to “time of the month” bleeding and can occur throughout the cycle. Periods may become heavier and more prolonged, and intercourse may be painful. Secondary dysmenorrhoea can be a sign of other conditions, including pelvic infections, which may need urgent attention. If you start to experience period pain as an adult you should not hesitate to consult a gynecologist.
Managing with period pain
There are a number of simple ways to ease the discomfort.
- Relax in a hot bath with aromatherapy oils.
- Cuddle a hot water bottle.
- Back and stomach massage is effective for some women.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing in a couple of days prior to and during your period.
- Gentle exercise such as yoga may help. A regular relaxation programme before the period is due and on the first few days helps to relax the muscles and improves blood supply to the pelvic area.
- For fast relief, take a painkiller specifically designed for period symptoms.