Painful periods (Other names: dysmenorrhea, dysmenorrhoea)
Most women will experience some degree of pain during their regular menstrual periods.This is normal and should be expected. The womb (uterus) is a large muscle and contracts continually but these are mild contractions and not usually felt. Around the time of the period (menstruation) the contractions become stronger as the blood supply is temporarily cut off during the contractions and this is what causes the pain. The purpose of the contractions is to enable the womb to shed its lining each month and this is lost as a bleed (menstrual period). This is an essential part of female fertility and the period pain caused by it is a side effect. Occasionally, in some women, the period pain can be extremely intense and the cause should investigated so that treatment can be determined or self-help mechanisms put in place.
If you have experienced severe painful periods (dysmenorrhea) since you began menstruating, then it is unlikely that a cause will be found and it may be just a part of your normal fertility cycle. There are certain things, like stress, which can aggravate the condition. You should speak with your doctor as this could be primary dysmenorrhea and they will be able to recommend lifestyle changes such as swimming or gentle exercise, using medication if necessary, or a trial of a TENS (transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation) machine to ease the pain.
More serious causes of painful periods (also termed secondary dysmenorrhea) include:
Period pain is rarely a sign of disease but, as a general rule, you should consult with your doctor if the pain interferes with your life and prevents you from working, or carrying out your normal daily tasks. Also, if you experience any unusual vaginal discharge or pain as a result of sexual intercourse.
Isabel symptom checker showing possible causes of the symptom painful periods
Before your consultation with you doctor, think about the following questions they may ask you.
You should call you doctor right away if you experience any of the following symptoms:
You should also make contact with you doctor if you have any of these longer term problems:
Mandy has worked for Isabel Healthcare since 2000. Prior to this, she was a Senior Staff Nurse on the Pediatric Infectious disease ward and high dependency unit at one of London's top hospitals, St Mary’s in Paddington which is part of Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. Her experience in the healthcare industry for the past 28 years in both the UK and USA means she's a vital resource for our organization. Mandy currently lives and works in Scottsdale, Arizona.