Once you have started your periods you quickly realise that although they are a great sign that you are looking after your body, they also can be pretty uncomfortable.
Most women experience period pain at some point in their lives. For some, that ‘time of the month’ causes little or no discomfort, while for others it can be excruciating.
So what causes the pain inside your body?
The lining in your uterus builds up every month to be ready to receive a fertilised egg to implant, if you have unprotected sex, and create a baby. If you don’t want to get pregnant and have taken precautions to stop a pregnancy, when that egg does not show up, the uterine lining (endometrial tissue) sheds itself, along with some blood.
During this time, chemicals called prostaglandins are released and trigger an inflammatory response, this triggers muscle contractions (cramps), in the uterus.
Pain is difficult to judge as you are the only one who knows how it feels for YOU but it is definitely different from woman to woman.
Some people believe that your monthly periods and the pain they can bring is our bodies way of preparing a woman to give birth to a baby in the future. ‘The initial stages of labour are very similar to periods,’ explains Dr Dasha Fielder, an Australia GP who specialises in women’s health.
‘Except with periods the pain stays about the same, whereas with labour it continues to increase and get worse until the baby is born.’
OK, so what kind of pain is normal?
We describe normal pain as a level that is able to be controlled with acceptable home methods, such as a sticky heat pad or hot water bottle and anti-inflammatory medication like Ibuprofen.
Cramping usually happens anywhere from 24 hours before your monthly period starts to two or three days into it.
If you’ve had bad period pain ever since you first started your periods, it could just be your body’s normal.
If a woman has had years of cramping, she probably has more of a sensitivity to prostaglandin. This is called primary dysmenorrhea, or pain with menstruation, and though it’s painful and should be discussed with your GP, it’s not usually a medical problem. The pain can also be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
What if the pain is worse than that?
You should not have to put your life on hold during your period. If your level of pain, significantly stops you from normal activities (education, work, social activities) then you should go to see your GP.
If taking anti-inflammatory medication doesn’t make it bearable or you experience cramping regularly outside of your period, then that is not normal either. Also if your period is much, much worse than it used to be, that is also a red flag to go see your GP.
Secondary dysmenorrhea, or pain that is “new, getting worse or changing over time,” can be a sign of an underlying condition. Often, it’s paired with heavy bleeding, but not always.
While your period can sometimes get more uncomfortable as you get older, a rapid or significant shift in the level of pain you’re in is definitely something you want to talk to your doctor about.
What are the common causes of painful periods?
Usually when we think of heavy periods and prolonged bleeding and severe cramping, we think of a fibroid. These benign tumors that grow in the walls of the uterus are common—over 70 percent of women will experience them at some point. Black women, and women with a family history of fibroids, have an even higher risk.
This condition happens when endometrial tissue grows where it’s not supposed to, anywhere outside of the uterus. The tissue builds up, sheds, and bleeds, just like it does in your uterus, but without the vaginal escape route period blood is supposed to have. Endometriosis can also cause blood-filled cysts on the ovaries or lead to the development of scar tissue (which can cause fertility problems). These things often cause pelvic pain and excruciating cramping during menstruation.
This condition, which is more common for women in their 30s and 40s, is when the lining of the uterus starts to invade into the muscle of the uterus. Similar to endometriosis, this tissue still sloughs every month, causing the lining to shed and bleed in the pockets of the muscle. Your uterus contracts and cramps more in response to get rid of the buildup.
If you’re miscarrying and don’t know it, it can present as a really painful period.
It is known that over 25% of women miscarry, but that number may be as high as 40% because many women don’t realize they’re having a miscarriage or that they were pregnant to begin with.
If your pain is due to a miscarriage, it would only happen one cycle, not regularly every month.
No matter the cause of your pain, it can be managed.
Fibroids can be removed. Endometriosis and Adenomyosis can be managed with things like hormonal medications, pain medication, and minimally invasive surgery. For primary dysmenorrhea, your doctor may suggest starting hormonal birth control, or can prescribe stronger pain meds to use when your cramps are worst.
When you’re self-treating, the key is to do it before it gets too painful. “Don’t wait until bleeding starts and it ramps up” to take an anti-inflammatory medication.You want to pre-medicate so you can decrease inflammation and pain. Try taking your go-to over-the-counter pain meds before the prostaglandins get your uterus kicking.
Heat can usually reduce the pain so a heat pad, hot water bottle or warm bath might also help. Rubbing Geranium Essential oil on your tummy can also regulate the pain by calming your hormones naturally.
Some doctors recommend taking calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D supplements as there is a lot of research about that and PMS symptoms.
Talk with your doctor before supplementing to make sure it’s OK for you and won’t interfere with any other medications you take.
And although most often moving is the last thing you want to do, gentle exercise is one of the best pain relief options you’ve got.
When exercising your body releases endorphins and increased oxygenation to the uterus will help with relieving the pain. Again, doing this before the pain hits works best. Yoga, which stretches and strengthens the pelvis, can work wonders, too.
A lot of women think they are supposed to be in a lot of pain during their periods and never speak up.
Women can suffer to the point they don’t go to work or school or miss out on social opportunities. Even if it’s not due to an underlying condition, simply having horrible pain can be addressed.
Article by By Amy Marturana from YourTango.