Around four in every five women have period pain at some time in their life. Everyone experiences pain differently, but persistent discomfort each month could be a sign of something that can be treated.
Period pain is also known as dysmenorrhoea or menstrual cramps.
The muscles of the womb (uterus) contract and relax in waves during the menstrual cycle. This helps the lining of the womb shed away, resulting in the blood loss seen during a period. These contractions can cause period pain and are triggered by hormones called prostaglandins.
The exact cause of most period pain is unknown. It may be that some women have a greater build-up of prostaglandins than others, causing stronger and more painful contractions.
There are two types of period pain - primary and secondary dysmenorrhoea.
This includes the following symptoms:
It's most common in your teens and early twenties.
This is a sign of an underlying medical condition and can also include these symptoms:
It's more likely in your late twenties onwards.
Menstrual cramps differ from premenstrual syndrome (PMS) discomfort.
Conditions than can cause secondary dysmenorrhoea include:
Period pain can also be caused by an intrauterine devices, such as the coil.
You should also see your GP if period pain starts to suddenly worsen, or you have any of these symptoms:
They may perform an internal examination to check for underlying conditions.
If your period pain has no obvious cause, your GP may refer you to a gynaecologist who may carry out:
You can try ibuprofen and aspirin for period pain relief. Paracetamol may not be as effective. Your doctor may prescribe a painkiller, such as naproxen or codeine, if over-the-counter medicines don't work.
You could also try:
Certain birth control options also help with period pain: