Most of us have experienced painful periods at least once. In fact, about 80% of us will have menstrual pain at some point in our lives. There are no set rules when it comes to period pain. It can be a mild nuisance or severe enough to require hospitalization. It can last only a few hours, or it can last for days.
As women, we feel the effect of our menstrual cycles in numerous ways. Our hormones and cycles can affect our sleeping habits, mood, metabolism, and sex drive. Recognizing the way our entire bodies reacts to our menstrual cycles can help us prepare for and treat the pain caused by periods.
How to Prevent and Treat Period Pain
No matter what the cause, there are a few surefire ways that you can treat painful menstruation. Here are some of the best methods for fighting period pain from home.
- Harness the power of heat – Heating pads, warm baths, and even hot towels can all help ease the intensity of cramps.
- Drink like a fish – And no, I’m not talking martinis or margaritas – I’m talking water. The more hydrated you are, the less pain you’re likely to experience while on your period. So fill up your water bottle and keep on sipping!
- Call in a masseuse – Massages that integrates traditional methods and acupressure points can reduce your pain during menstruation.
- Get moving – The last thing a lot of us want to do while in pain is exercise. But studies have shown that being active before and during your period can help with the worst of your discomfort.
- Have some fun in the bedroom – This might come as a surprise, but having an orgasm can release chemicals in your brain that help combat pain and relax muscles.
- Limit your diet – Any foods or liquids that can cause bloating, inflammation, or water retention can also worsen your cramps. Some examples of things to avoid if you have severe period pain are alcohol, caffeine, and salty foods.
- Pop some (over-the-counter) pills – Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen and naproxen can easily be found at your local drugstore, and they help with inflammation and pain. And when in doubt, ask a pharmacist for recommendations on how to stop period pain.
- Get a prescription – Many of the negative symptoms tied to your menstrual cycle can be minimized or eliminated by using birth control or other hormonal medications. There are a lot of options out there, so visit your doctor and ask which medication might be right for your symptoms.
Cramps – What’s Normal?
You have most likely met someone whose menstrual cramps have interfered with their day-to-day lives. They may take time off from school, pop over-the-counter medications like candy, or become withdrawn and cranky when that time of the month comes around.
The unfortunate truth is that moderate uterine cramping during your period is natural. The condition is called dysmenorrhea, and it occurs when your uterus contracts to try and get rid of its lining. This is an essential process that occurs during your period. For most women, the pain starts 2-3 days before their menses, becomes most intense about 24 hours into their period, then subsides after another 2-3 days. It’s usually felt in your lower belly, but it can radiate out to your back and upper thighs.
This cramping can also be accompanied by headaches, nausea, diarrhea, and dizziness. There’s usually no reason to worry about this pain. But sometimes, menstrual discomfort can be caused by other more severe factors.
Cramps – What’s Not Normal?
Though cramps can be a normal part of your period, there are some circumstances in which they can signify more severe conditions. You should consult with a medical professional if:
- your cramps prevent you from taking part in your regular everyday activities
- your cramps get worse over time
- you only begin to experience severe cramps after the age of 25
Below, we’ll explore some of the medical conditions that could be behind abnormal period pain.
Endometriosis is when uterine-like tissue grows outside of the uterus. It affects up to 11% of American women, primarily those in their 30’s and 40’s. The primary symptom of endometriosis is pain, which can gradually worsen over the course of months and years. Though endometriosis is noncancerous, it can cause a number of physical problems like infertility. It has also been linked to autoimmune disorders.
If you have menstrual cramps that have worsened over time, unexplained abdominal pain during intercourse or bowel movements, are having trouble getting pregnant, or have spotting between periods, it’s a good idea to check in with your doctor to see if endometriosis is the cause. This is especially true if you start to experience these symptoms in your 30’s and 40’s.
Endometriosis is not curable, but it can be treated by specific types of birth control, targeted hormone treatments, or, in severe cases, surgery.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths on the uterus. Up to 80% of women of childbearing age may have uterine fibroids, but few of them experience any symptoms. For those who do, they may have lower back pain, heavy or prolonged periods, and a persistent feeling of pressure in their abdomen.
Just like endometriosis, fibroids can be treated with hormones. There are also a number of surgical procedures that could offer relief for those suffering from severe symptoms. But for those out there who aren’t negatively impacted by uterine fibroids, most doctors recommend they remain untreated.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)
Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection that occurs withing a woman’s reproductive organs. It is often, but not always, tied to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) like chlamydia and gonorrhea. It can also be caused by douching or the use of an intrauterine device (IUD).
STDs can be a touchy subject, but PID is no joke. One in eight women diagnosed with PID struggle to become pregnant later in life, and the scarring caused by PID can also lead to long-term pain for women. It’s also easily treatable if diagnosed early; it usually just takes a course of antibiotics to clear up the infection.
Besides lower abdominal pain, some distinctive symptoms of PID are fever, unusual and unpleasant vaginal discharge, and a burning sensation when you urinate. Bleeding between periods and painful intercourse are also common symptoms.
You can best avoid PID the same way you can avoid an STD – by practicing safe sex.
Track Your Symptoms
You’ll never get to the root of what’s causing your period pain if you don’t first recognize your symptoms, learn when they occur, and start understanding your own body and its menstrual cycle.
You can do this the old-fashioned way by taking notes and marking calendars, or you can use a handy-dandy app on your smartphone, tablet, or computer that will do all these things for you.
Whichever way you choose to approach your painful periods, remember: if something seems off or your pain is increasing each month, don’t be afraid to visit a trusted physician for advice or a possible diagnosis. Moderate menstrual cramps may be a normal part of being a woman, but there’s no reason they should stop you from living your life to the fullest!
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is my period so painful?
Cramping is a normal part of many women’s periods. It happens when the uterus contracts to try and force its dead lining out of the body. This may sound gross, but it is a natural part of your menstrual cycle and allows your uterus to remain healthy and fertile. But severe pain accompanied by abnormal cycles, heavy bleeding, and other symptoms can also be a sign of a more serious condition.
How do you stop period pain?
There are many methods you can try to help alleviate period pain. Over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen and naproxen can help. Exercise, heating pads/hot water bottles, and regulating your diet are other options. Some people claim that massage, essential oils, and certain vitamins and spices also assist them in handling menstrual pain. But if you’re still experiencing pain after trying some of these remedies out, don’t be afraid to visit a doctor for more options.
How much pain is normal during my period?
Most women will experience some level of menstrual pain during their lifetimes. It’s normal to have pain for 2-3 days during your period. But if you experience discomfort at other times of your cycle or throughout the entirety of your menses, you should seek the advice of a medical professional. It’s also a good idea to seek medical attention if your pain regularly keeps you from doing the day-to-day activities you normally take part in.
Can painful periods make me less fertile?
Pain and cramping during your period can’t affect your fertility, but they could be signs of conditions that can. Endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) can both impede your ability to get pregnant later in life. So if your period pain worsens or is accompanied by other negative symptoms, seek medical treatment to ensure your fertility isn’t being affected.
Does period pain get worse with age?
Yes and no. It’s normal for many young women to experience intense period pain when they first start their menstrual cycles. This pain may lessen over time, or they may find ways to treat and alleviate this pain so that it doesn’t affect them as much going forward. But women who experience period pain that worsens once they reach their 30’s and 40’s are more likely to be experiencing a separate condition like endometriosis or uterine fibroids. So if you notice that your period pain is getting worse over time, visit your OBGYN to find out if your discomfort is a normal part of your cycle or a sign of a more serious condition.