Period pain sucks, period. Nobody wants it, and yet a ton of us are reduced to grumbling messes 12 or so times a year. Periods are different for everyone, so let’s help you evaluate your period pain.
It’s not uncommon for periods to be painful. In fact, around 80% of women experience period pain at some stage in their lives, be it as a teen or adult. And for some people, the pain is severe enough to make everyday tasks as tough as climbing a mountain! It truly calls into question what menstruation should feel like and how to identify concerning levels of pain. If you find yourself asking questions like; “ Are periods painful?” or “What does period cramping feel like?” then this article is certainly for you.
Period cramps (dysmenorrhea) manifest as a throbbing or piercing pain in the lower abdomen. During menstruation, the uterine muscles contract and shed the lining of the uterus. These muscles contract in intervals throughout the day which means period pain and cramping is no surprise. Your uterine muscles are working overtime! For some people, the menstrual cramps are slightly uncomfortable and perhaps a little annoying. On the other hand, extremely painful period cramps can feel like you’re about to go into labour.
The typical symptoms of menstruation cramps and pain include:
With such a long list of potential symptoms, it’s incredible how so many people with period cramps can get through the day. But if you find yourself experiencing one or more of these symptoms and struggling to get by, it’s time to consult a doctor or healthcare professional. This is especially important if your period cramps/pain started after the age of 25 or continue to get worse over time. And if you recently had an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted, this could also be affecting your period too.
There are plenty of exercises and treatments for period pain relief. Whether you want to get active and do some yoga or simply add more magnesium to your diet, you’re bound to resonate with at least one of these options. Here’s a list of remedies for period pain relief:
Heat is a menstrual cycle’s best friend! Seriously. Whether you’re pressing a period heat pad, a hot water bottle, or a microwavable bean bag to your abdomen, heat is scientifically proven to provide period pain relief, even if it’s temporary. You can also buy heat patches from the pharmacy or shops, which can last up to a couple of hours.
Exercise is proven to provide period pain relief. On light flow days, try yoga or pilates, or go for a walk. If you’re up for it, more cardio-intensive workouts, such as gym, swimming, or a run, work well as a period pain treatment as well. Practice relaxation techniques such as slow breathing.
Anti-inflammatories and painkillers can help ease period pain. Not a fan of taking medicine? Sometimes we think that menstrual pain and discomfort are something we should just put up with. But nobody needs to live in pain, especially when the pain is something as treatable as period symptoms. Remember to always speak to your healthcare professional or pharmacist before taking medication, and never to take a friend's or relative’s over-the-counter medication.
If there aren’t water restrictions in your area, try taking an Epsom salts bath. Hot water alone will soothe your cramps, while Epsom salts, which are cheap and readily available from your pharmacy or local shop, contain magnesium, which can alleviate cramping. You can also get a full body massage or acupuncture to relax your muscles
We know, we know. You were planning to eat pizza tonight, weren’t you? While you don’t have to completely eliminate cappuccinos from your day, it is a good idea to drink less coffee when you’re in your menstrual cycle, and cut back on your sodium as well. Both sodium and caffeine can cause dehydration, especially if you’re not drinking enough water during the day, which can make your period pain worse. Try to increase your magnesium intake through supplements or eating bananas, spinach, almonds etc. and drink herbal teas with peppermint, ginger, etc. that will have a calming effect.
The oxytocin released during sexual intercourse can help provide period pain relief. And yup, you’re not the only one who is more aroused during their period. And if you and your partner are comfortable with period sex, and it helps your menstrual pain, then why the heck not? Remember to make it safe sex, though. Always.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to relieve period pain. Experiment with different options until you find something that works for you. Most people with period cramps rely on multiple treatments and remedies to reduce or get rid of the pain.
Learn more about dealing with painful periods by watching our #LilLetsTalk on the topic with Dineo Ranaka.
Period bloating is another aspect of menstruation that can contribute to discomfort and pain. Bloating refers to an uncomfortable feeling of fullness in the stomach area typically caused by a build of gas in the gut. It’s often described as feeling like your tummy is about to explode! Concerning periods, bloating is due to hormonal changes changes in the body and increased water retention.
The best ways to manage period bloating include:
You can also consider hormonal birth control/contraceptives to manage period bloating as it can play a key role in regulating hormone imbalances. In order to get birth control in South Africa, you will need a valid prescription from a medical professional.
On some occasions, you might experience period pains but no blood or period. There’s no need to panic as there are plenty of reasons why this might happen and they usually aren’t a cause for concern. In most cases, early period pain means you’ll start bleeding in a day or two. Plenty of people start to feel period bloating, pain and cramping beforehand. This is a common symptom of ovulation in which you might experience a sharp one-sided pain in the lower abdomen, typically about 14 days before your period.
Alternatively, you might just be constipated and getting the symptoms confused with period pain. Both conditions can result in cramps and abdominal pain. And if you’re sexually active, you have to consider the possibility that you might be pregnant if you don’t have your period.
We recommend consulting a healthcare professional for diagnosis if you’re experiencing period pains without a period for longer than a week. There are dozens of mild to severe conditions such as menopause, stress and pelvic inflammatory disease that could also result in ongoing abdominal/pelvic pain.
Painful periods aren’t always directly linked to your fertility, but they can be a symptom of underlying health conditions. For example, endometriosis and PCOS are two common conditions that can result in severe period pain and infertility. Endometriosis is a disease where muscle tissue grows outside the uterus and causes pain. It affects about *10% of women and girls worldwide who are at reproductive age. On the other hand, PCOS is a hormonal disorder that results in enlarged ovaries covered in small growths called cysts. It often causes irregular periods and cramping pain.
The best way to determine if painful periods are affecting your fertility is to consult a doctor, gynaecologist or healthcare professional. You’ll want to be screened for conditions that can affect fertility as soon as possible, especially if you plan to fall pregnant and have children.
Periods are generally painful for a lot of people out there. The muscular wall of the womb is constantly contracting which can put strain on the body. Heavy periods can also make this worse. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that some periods are slightly more painful than others. If you have a feeling that your pain exceeds the typical levels of discomfort, don’t shy away from taking action. You can start out with some home remedies such as cuddling a hot water bottle or getting more exercise to increase blood flow. But as soon as your period prevents you from showing up as the best version of yourself and having a productive day, give the doctor a call.
*https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/endometriosis [Accessed: 23 November 2022]
Painful periods are normal and common. It usually feels like cramping or bloating in the abdominal area. For some people, the pain is consistent while others get a sudden bout of pain. However, if you find that your period pain is debilitating, reach out to a medical professional.
Period pains are typically felt in the abdominal area, but it may vary each cycle. The pain can also be felt in the thighs and lower back, especially for those with severe period pain.
There is no set threshold for how painful periods are supposed to be — everyone’s body is different. Ideally, you shouldn’t feel any pain at all.
Period pains are not contagious. Contrary to widespread myths, it’s unlikely for an individual to affect another person’s current menstrual cycle by being in close proximity.
Painful periods usually cannot kill you, unless there is an underlying life-threatening condition behind the painful periods. Severe menstrual pain can point to other conditions that might be serious. Consult a doctor if you often experience extreme period pain.
Painful periods can be a sign of conditions such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and several other disorders that affect your hormones. If you are diagnosed with any of these conditions, treating them should play a role in reducing menstrual period pain.
It hurts when you get your period because the muscles around the wall of the uterus are contracting to shed its lining. This often puts stress on the body and results in throbbing and cramps in the lower abdomen.
The more prostaglandin hormones you have in your body, the more painful your period might be. This means that as the hormones build up, your period could get more painful. There is also the possibility of having secondary dysmenorrhea (period pain) — a medical condition that usually develops with age.