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How can I manage my period pain?

Woman sat on sofa clutching hot water bottle
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While most girls and women have period pain at some point in their lives, for one in 10, it can get in the way of normal activities.

But you shouldn’t have to put up with your pain, that’s why we’ve asked our pharmacist Anshu Bhimbat to give her tips on how to manage it and when it may be a sign of something more serious.

What causes period pain?

Period pain is part of a chain reaction that happens when your womb sheds its lining at the end of your monthly cycle and your period starts. The muscles in the wall of your womb contract to encourage the shedding. This action compresses the blood vessels, which sends pain signals to the brain.

In turn, the pain signals trigger the release of inflammatory chemicals called prostaglandins, which encourage the womb to contract even more. It’s not clear why some women get more pain than others but it could be that they have higher levels of prostaglandins or are more sensitive to them.

How can I treat period pain?

The most appropriate over-the-counter painkillers are non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as ibuprofen, which lower prostaglandin production. But they aren’t suitable for everyone – those with asthma or stomach ulcers, for instance – in which case, try paracetamol.

For stronger relief, there’s co-codamol – a combination of paracetamol and codeine. However, codeine can make you drowsy, and because it’s potentially addictive, you shouldn’t take it for more than three days in a row unless on prescription.

For painkillers to be most effective, take them as soon as possible. Always check suitability with the pharmacist.

What about drug-free methods?

  • TENS machines are small, battery-operated devices, which release low-voltage electrical pulses to the affected area, blocking pain signals and stimulating production of feel-good chemicals called endorphins.
  • Heat packs or hot water bottles can also help by dilating the blood vessels, improving circulation and stopping the chemicals that trigger pain. Similarly, a hot bath or shower, or massaging the area, can have a soothing effect.
  • Exercise also improves circulation and boosts endorphins, helping to combat pain.
  • Another tip is to avoid too much caffeine during these times as it constricts blood flow. Alcohol should also be avoided or limited as it encourages inflammation.

Can you prevent it?

Unfortunately there is no instant cure for period pains but there are things you can do to try and lessen them. If you smoke, try to stop as it worsens circulation and has been shown to increase risk of period pain.

You should aim to be a healthy weight, as being overweight or underweight can increase the risk of period problems by affecting hormone levels.

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Supplements that encourage circulation, such as omega-3, garlic and vitamin E may help, but you should check with your pharmacist before you start taking these.

Otherwise, your GP can prescribe stronger painkillers or a contraceptive treatment, which regulates hormones.

Can period pain ever mean anything more serious?

Period pains are very common among women, but sometimes severe period pain can indicate an undiagnosed health problem, including fibroids or endometriosis.

When should I see a doctor?

You should see your GP if you have already spoken to your pharmacist, you have tried all the above methods and you still have severe pain and/or you have other new or unexplained symptoms.

Find more advice on ways to manage your pain, including product recommendations and lifestyle tips online. Or come in store and speak to a member of our healthcare team. 

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