Painful periods (Dysmenorrhoea)

What causes painful periods?

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Painful periods are thought to be most often caused by too much of substances called prostaglandins in the body. These substances in moderate amounts are needed to squeeze the womb so that its lining can be shed as menstrual flow. However, when there is too much of these substances, the womb is squeezed more than usual and the period becomes painful.

Period pain is not usually a sign of an underlying problem. But it can sometimes be caused by a medical condition like endometriosis (when portions of the womb lining grow outside of their natural location) and pelvic inflammatory disease (due to an infection in the reproductive organs). Period pain that starts from the age of 30, it’s more likely to be caused by a medical condition. The doctor needs to rule this out.

What are the symptoms?

Period pain may come on when bleeding starts, or a few hours before, and it is usually worst during the heaviest days of the period.

The pain is sharp and comes in spasms, usually in the middle of the lower abdomen. It may also be present in the lower back and down the back of the legs.

It may sometimes be severe enough to cause headache, light-headedness, and even nausea and vomiting.

This type of period pain is most common in younger women. It often starts six to 12 months after a young woman has had her first period.

What treatments work?

Painkillers like ibuprofen can help with painful periods. It can be bought without prescription. But for stronger ones like mefenamic acid and naproxen, a doctor’s prescription is needed. Paracetamol and aspirin may not work as well as these other ones, but they may be tried if the pain is not too much.

Oral contraceptives may also lessen period pains. There are implantable ones if long-term use is required. The doctor will provide a guide on the best ones for use.

Some women find applying heat to their abdomen (either on its own or together with taking ibuprofen) to be useful.

What will happen to me?

Period pain usually gets better with age. Childbirth have also known to reduce the pain of subsequent periods. If it doesn’t go away however, the right treatment(s) will help take care of it.