The experience of having periods varies between women. They can be light and completely painless for some, but completely debilitating for others.
The majority of women experience some cramping for one to two days during their period, and this is normal. Teenage girls are also more likely to suffer from painful periods compared to adult women, particularly adult women who’ve had children. But painful periods in adolescence usually improve over time.
However, some women have period pain that isn’t easily managed and that requires them to take time off school or work. Pain to this extent is not normal, and needs to be investigated.
Why periods cause pain
A period is the shedding of the endometrium – the lining of the womb (uterus). Every month, the uterus prepares itself for pregnancy by growing a thick lining that has a rich blood supply, awaiting implanting of an embryo.
When pregnancy does not ensue, the body produces a period, the by-product of the endometrium. During this time the blood vessels open, the lining sheds off the uterine wall, and the uterine muscle contracts to expel the blood and tissue.
During these mild contractions, it’s common for women to feel a lower abdominal cramping sensation as blood products are expelled through the uterine body and out of the cervix before it makes it way out the vagina.
A period is the shedding of the lining of the womb (uterus), called the endometrium.
The contractions are triggered by hormone-like compounds produced by the body called prostaglandins, which are the main source of pelvic pain associated with menstruation. Higher levels of prostaglandins have been associated with more severe menstrual cramps.
Cramping is usually strongest in the first one to two days of the period, then settles for the remaining four to five days.
Pain during periods is called dysmenorrhoea, and there are two types: primary and secondary.
Primary dysmenorrhoea refers to pain with periods, that begins soon after girls start menstruating. This tends to get better as the teenager gets older. The cause of this pain is not known, but hormonal fluctuations are thought to be implicated.
The main medications used to treat this pain are non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Nurofen) or naproxen (Naprogesic). They work by blocking the action of prostaglandins. However you can’t live your life taking medications continuously. There are some well proven herbs and nutritional supplements that can make a huge improvement and in some cases totally stop pain.
Secondary dysmenorrhoea generally refers to period pain resulting from a medical disorder in the reproductive system. Instead of period pain improving over time, it worsens. This can be due to several conditions, the most common of which is endometriosis.
If periods aren’t what they use to be, increasingly painful to the extent they affect your day or even wake you at night; or you are noticing the bleeding is getting heavier make a time for an appointment.
We can work together to address the cause, by working with a GP we can arrange the correct tests and understand what is going on in your body.
Naturopathy works wonderfully well with hormone conditions and painful periods. In some cases I have seen clients pain go completely and other reduce significantly.
Any questions or queries as always please don’t hesitate to contact me. Lindsay x
The Conversation 07/02/2017 Health Check – Are painful periods normal?
Paediatric and adolescent gynaecologist at Royal Hospital for Women and Sydney Children’s Hospital, UNSW