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Period pain and cramps

Woman on bed holding stomach
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What causes period pain?

Each month the lining of your womb (uterus) thickens in preparation for pregnancy, if this occurs the fertilised egg attaches itself to the lining. If the egg isn’t fertilised then the lining breaks down as it is no longer needed. Your body starts to release chemical called prostaglandins which encourage the muscles of your womb to contract and tighten so that they can squeeze the unneeded lining out of your body.

This process causes period cramps, these can range from mild manageable pain to pain that stops you from doing everyday tasks. It isn’t known why some women experience more period pain than others. If you experience extreme period, it isn’t normal and you don’t have to live with it, discussing your symptoms with your GP could help you to get treatment to relieve your menstrual cramps.

What are the symptoms of period pain?

Usually women will feel cramps and pain in the lower abdomen, this is normally mild and manageable and should not stop you from living your everyday life.

This pain may also be accompanied by:

  • Pain in your lower back
  • Leg pain which radiates down your legs
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches

The symptoms connected to period pain are also common symptoms of your period, to find out more about the signs of your period and what you could experience read our period symptoms article

How long will my period pain last?

Period pain tends to start when your bleeding does, however many women can experience period cramps several days before their period starts. The pain usually lasts between 48 and 72 hours, although it can last for longer, and accompany the whole length of your period. The pain can also worsen when your bleeding is heaviest.

How can I help my period cramps?

There are a number of ways that you can reduce your period pain and there may be one in particular that works for you or one that helps to ease the pain on a certain day of your period.

How can I get rid of period pain?

  • Taking inflammatory pain killers such as ibuprofen or aspirin can help to ease menstrual cramps
  • You may not feel like exercising but keeping active can reduce pain. Try swimming, walking or cycling
  • Taking a hot bath or shower can help to relax your body and ease the pain
  • Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on your tummy to reduce your pain
  • Drinking hot drinks can help to relax your stomach
  • Massaging the area that hurts can relax the muscles causing the pain
  • Using a TENS machine can help to ease pain by encouraging the body to release endorphins – the body’s natural pain killers
  • Try some simple stretching or yoga teamed with relaxing breathing techniques to distract you from the pain and ease your symptoms

How can I stop my period cramps?

One of the ways that you can stop yourself from experiencing period cramps is to treat them before they even start. One to two days before your period you can’t start taking ibuprofen tablets as a pre-emptive attempt to lessen the pain you experience. This may not work for all women and if your level of pain stops you from completing everyday tasks then visit your GP to discuss your symptoms.

What does period pain feel like?

Many women notice period pain either before their period to show that it is about to start or during it. The pain is centralised in the lower abdomen however it can be felt in the spine, legs and round the lower back. The pain ranges from a dull ache to stabbing pain; if your pain is stopping you from completing everyday tasks then you may want to talk to your GP about treatment.

Why is my period so painful?

Period pain is caused by the muscles in your womb (uterus) contracting and tightening. Many women only experience mild discomfort during their period, however if you experience severe pain you should talk to your GP.