Period pain: what’s the deal?

Period pain: what’s the deal?

About 80% of people who have had a period have experienced period pain, so if you do too, you’re definitely not alone! But it can be hard to know what’s “normal” pain and what’s pain that you should be concerned about. Let’s talk about it!


Period pain is often a normal side effect of your uterus cramping to shed its lining, but it can sometimes be a sign of another medical condition, especially if it’s very severe and/or accompanied by other symptoms.


Thankfully, there are some things you can do at home that may help, from applying heat to your abdomen, to exercise, vitamin supplementation, to taking anti-inflammatories. If your symptoms aren’t helped by these options, we recommend discussing your symptoms with a doctor, as they may have ways they can help that you can’t do at home.


What causes period pain? 


The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhea (dys- meaning bad/painful, and -menorrhea referring to your period), and there are generally two types: primary dysmenorrhea is period pain that is directly caused by your period, and secondary dysmenorrhea is when it’s caused by another condition. Let’s walk through these and talk about what they mean.


Primary dysmenorrhea

Your period is what happens when your uterus sheds its lining by cramping and releasing its muscles, kind of like clenching and unclenching your fist. The chemicals that trigger this to happen are called prostaglandins, and those are likely the cause of primary dysmenorrhea. The more prostaglandins you have, the more cramping your uterus does, and the more likely it is to be painful. Some pain can be normal! It’s totally normal for it to hurt when a part of your body is cramping up (ever had a leg cramp? ouch!). With that being said, severe pain is very different. Let’s get into that!


Secondary dysmenorrhea

While some period pain can be normal, if it’s very severe, or especially if you have other symptoms too, it may be caused by an underlying condition. Some of these conditions can include:

  • Endometriosis, which is when the lining of your uterus grows outside of the uterus, usually in the areas around the uterus such as the fallopian tubes or ovaries
  • Uterine fibroids, which are non-cancerous growths in your uterus
  • Adenomyosis, when the uterus lining grows in the wall of the uterus, as opposed to just the inner lining of the walls
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease, an infection of the uterus and/or fallopian tubes and ovaries, usually caused by an infection such as an STD
  • Differences in how the opening of the uterus (cervix) is shaped, such as a cervix where the hole is smaller than usual and the blood has trouble getting out

What can you do about period pain?


Thankfully, there are some things you can do at home that may help! These can include:

  • Keeping something warm on your abdomen (like a heat pack) and/or taking a warm bath or shower
  • Massaging your abdomen
  • Exercising and light movement (We know! It’s probably the last thing you want to do when you’re in pain, but if you’re able to, there are some exercises that can potentially help period pain specifically)
  • Eating light, nutritious meals
  • Taking anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen or naproxen up to a few days before you expect your period
  • Eating more of and/or supplementing vitamin B-6 and/or calcium

Another option that may be helpful is hormonal birth control. Hormonal birth control can have a broad range of mild to severe side effects, so if you would like to consider this option, discuss with your healthcare provider first and make sure you thoroughly understand all the possible outcomes. Even non-hormonal birth control like copper (non-hormonal) IUDs can actually make period pain worse so make sure you’re aware of all effects before trying any out. 


If these don’t help, and/or you’re having other symptoms such as a very heavy period, dizziness, nausea, or pelvic pain when you’re not on your period, we recommend seeing a doctor, as these can be signs of another condition. 


Summary

Some period pain is normal and very common with around 80% of menstruators experiencing it at some point in their life. It’s often just a side effect of your uterus shedding its lining, but more severe pain can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition. There are many things you can do at home like using heat, exercise, and taking anti-inflammatories, but if you’re symptoms are really bad and/or you have other unusual symptoms, it’s worth seeing if a doctor may have more ways to help you.

Did you find this article helpful? 

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Post by Miranda Bromage

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