Painful Periods (Dysmenorrhoea)
- What is menstruation?
- What are period pains?
- What causes period pain?
- What can I do to relieve the symptoms of period pains?
What is menstruation?
Menstruation, or having periods, is part of the female reproductive cycle.
While the average interval between periods is 28 days, many women will have cycles that are either longer or shorter than this.
During a period, the lining of the womb, which is no longer required if a pregnancy has not occurred, is shed and bleeding occurs through the vagina. This bleeding usually lasts between three and seven days.
What are period pains?
These are pains which may be experienced in the days leading up to the period or during actual menstruation.
Period pains are also known as dysmenorrhoea or menstrual cramps.
Most teenage girls and young women suffer some degree of pain during periods. This usually becomes a problem within two to three years of periods starting, once ovulation has become established. This is called primary dysmenorrhoea and usually improves spontaneously after the age of about 25 or after childbirth.
There is another type of dysmenorrhoea, called secondary dysmenorrhoea. This tends to affect older women and is commonly due to an underlying gynaecological condition such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
What causes period pain?
The exact cause of dysmenorrhoea is not known.
It is speculated that primary dysmenorrhoea may be due to excessive production of, or sensitivity to prostaglandins, a family of chemicals produced in the wall of the womb which cause the contraction of the womb associated with the shedding of the lining.
A woman who develops painful periods in her later 20s, 30s or 40s will need investigation, as this is secondary dysmenorrhoea. Once a cause is found it will need to be treated to relieve the symptoms.
What can I do to relieve the symptoms of period pains?
- Keep your abdomen warm. For some women this may entail having a warm bath, for others using a hot water bottle does the trick.
- While having your period, try to avoid drinks that contain caffeine, such as tea, coffee and cola.
- For some women, exercise relieves the symptoms of period pain.
- Try to avoid stressful situations. Massage can help.
- Some women use pain-relieving drugs for the pain.
- Medications, which prevent the build up, of prostaglandins in the days prior to a period may be useful in making periods less painful and lighter. Your doctor will advise you if these drugs would help you.
- Many women find that the oral contraceptive pill is an excellent treatment for painful or irregular periods. Your doctor will advise you if this is a suitable option for you.
Back to top of page