Is my period pain normal? Here’s how to tell

Painful menstruation is common but causes can vary. Here’s why understanding what’s responsible for any period pain you experience can be important.

Over 70 per cent of women experience period pain and while it tends to be something that’s more common among teenagers and young women, it can occur at any age.

So what exactly is period pain? And, if you experience it, how can you tell if your pain is “normal” or not?

What is period pain?

Technically called dysmenorrhoea, period pain is the most common cause of pelvic pain.

“Women who experience period pain will often describe a pain that’s in their lower stomach,” Jean Hailes for Women’s Health CEO Dr Sarah White says.

“But others will talk about lower back pain or even pain that’s in their legs.”

Period pain can be a constant ache, or feel like a gripping pain.

Are there different types of period pain?

Yes. The most common type of period pain is called primary dysmenorrhoea.

The pain is caused by the muscles of the uterus contracting in order to shed its lining during a period.

Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins are released by the body to help trigger these contractions, and one theory is that women who experience period pain may have higher prostaglandin levels.

“But period pain can also be caused by an underlying condition that affects the uterus, such as endometriosis or fibroids,” Dr White says.

This type of period pain is called secondary dysmenorrhoea.

How do you know if period pain is serious?

“If you’re having painful periods that are interfering with your ability to do your daily activities, or if over-the-counter analgesics aren’t working to manage the pain, then you should talk to your doctor,” Dr White says.

If your period pain is being caused by endometriosis, you may also experience some other symptoms, endometriosis researcher Dr Beck O’Hara, of the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Research Institute, says.

“In addition to period pain, other symptoms that might be associated with endometriosis include bowel pain, bladder pain, pain with sex, back pain, stabbing pain and fatigue,” Dr O’Hara, who coordinated the development of EndoZone, a digital platform for people living with endometriosis, says.

One in nine women in Australia develop endometriosis and, unfortunately, it can take up to 11 years to receive a diagnosis.

How to relieve period pain

If period pain is caused by an underlying condition, receiving treatment for that condition can help to relieve symptoms, including pain.

Over-the-counter medicines such as paracetamol, ibuprofen and naproxen, as well as using heat packs, can also help to reduce period pain.

“For really painful periods, your doctor might suggest you try taking the oral contraceptive pill or have a hormonal intrauterine device, or IUD, inserted,” Dr White says.

“Importantly, don’t ever feel you have to put up with period pain – there are solutions available, so talk to your doctor.”

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Written by Karen Fittall.