Period pain is frequent occurrence for more than half of all girls and women in their menstruating years. It typically occurs for 1 to 2 days at the start of the period or sometimes just before the onset of menstruation. Period pain is a result of cramps in the uterus hence it is also known as menstrual cramps. The medical term for period pain is dysmenorrhea. Most women who do experience pain, have only mild pain but in a minority of cases, it can be severe. The pain can be debilitating and affect a woman’s ability to continue with daily activities and even lead to depression.
Some women will experience period pain on its own with no other signs or symptoms. However, there are other symptoms that can sometimes accompany period pain. This may include nausea and/or vomiting, headaches, dizziness, changes in bowel movement and irritability. It is important to have this investigated further as some of these symptoms may be unrelated to menstruation entirely and could be associated with gynecological, pelvic or even systemic diseases.
Location of Period Pain
Most women will experience pain located in the lower abdomen, involving the lower back and extending to the inner thigh. It can sometimes extend outwards to the pelvic bones or even radiate upwards into the central abdomen. The pain is typically described as a cramping or aching pain. Sharper pain may be associated with underlying disorders. Period pain occurs at around the time of menstruation and must be differentiated from mid-cycle pain, also referred to as ovulation pain or Mittelschmerz.
Causes of Period Pain
Dysmenorrhea is a result of cramping in the muscular uterus. Normally there are contractions to facilitate the expulsion of the menses but sometimes these contractions can become painful cramps. It is believed to be due to prostaglandins secreted from the inner uterine lining (endometrium) which causes the muscular layer (myometrium) to contract strongly and also reduces blood flow to the uterus. Period pain that occurs without any underlying gynecological disorder is known as primary dysmenorrhea. However in some cases, the period pain is associated with pathology in the reproductive organs or pelvic cavity. This is then known as secondary dysmenorrhea. Some of the more common causes includes pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), endometriosis and uterine fibroids.
Treatment and Remedies
Certain conservative measures may be sufficient to reduce and even relieve the period pain. Many women find relief from placing a hot water bottle or heat pad over the lower abdomen. Other measures may involve plenty of rest, eating many small light meals, drinking plenty of fluids, avoiding strenuous activity, using calcium, magnesium or B-complex supplements and even relaxation techniques like yoga or meditation.
However these measures may not be sufficient for every woman suffering with period pain. Medical treatment is therefore advisable. It may involve the use of anti-inflammatory drugs or analgesics (painkillers) – either over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medication. Oral contraceptives are often recommended particularly in women with menstrual irregularity. Antidepressants may be necessary, not only for depressed women, but also for chronic pain management.