Updated 16 August 2022 | Approved By Dr. Umberto Russo
What is Period Pain?Period pain describes discomfort and cramping sensations right before or during a person's period. Typically, the pain will be felt in areas such as the lower abdominal and back areas. During puberty, children may experience their first period, which generally occurs between the ages of 9-16. Afterwards, the period is the last part of a menstrual cycle (between 21 to 45 days). Period pain is a common problem for individuals undergoing regular menstrual cycles. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners notes that around 70-90% of females experience period pain . Dysmenorrhea is a condition that leads to frequent and severe period pain. It is a health problem that can either be caused by periods and/or other conditions. Many people who experience regular period pain should seek a consultation with a doctor to receive treatment and advice.
What Causes Period Pain?An individual's period will begin at the end of the menstrual cycle. If the egg does not get fertilised (where the individual will get pregnant), the lining of the uterus will begin to shed. In preparation for the next menstrual cycle, the muscles around the uterus contract to help remove this lining. Hormones in the body, such as prostaglandin, are responsible for these contractions. These contractions of the muscles in these regions are the main reason for period pain. For more information about periods and the menstrual cycle, please read more at The Royal Women's Hospital website.
Symptoms and SignsDuring the period, many people will usually experience cramping sensations around the lower abdominal areas. Other related signs include thigh and lower back pain during or before the period. Symptoms that are also associated with period pain will also be listed below.
- Tender breasts
- Stomach issues, such as bloating, constipation and diarrhoea
- Mood changes
- Feeling faint
- Reduced sex drive
Tests and DiagnosisFor some, period pain can become unbearable and significantly impact their quality of life. While period pain is a common symptom for women at the end of their cycle, treatment can be provided to help relieve pain. Some people also experience dysmenorrhea, which leads to frequent and severe period pain. Many reasons cause this condition. It's essential to consult your GP to determine what tests need to be performed to see what could be leading to your symptoms. To help with diagnosis, your GP may suggest the following tests:
Pelvis and Physical AssessmentYour GP may require a pelvis and physical assessment depending on your circumstances. This may provide enough information to determine what type of tests and follow-ups may be necessary.
UltrasoundUltrasound imaging uses high-frequency sound waves to create a series of images inside the body. It is typically recommended to determine what conditions could be causing regular period pain, such as endometriosis and adenomyosis .
MRIMagnetic resonance imaging uses powerful magnets to take detailed 2D and 3D images inside the body. Similarly to ultrasound, it is used to diagnose other relevant conditions, especially if the different tests are not conclusive. For more information, please read our comprehensive guide here.
Blood TestsGPs may also recommend blood tests in some situations. If heavy bleeding is associated with unusual period pain, anaemia (low red blood cells) could occur. For more information about anaemia, please read about it here. During the test, blood will be drawn and taken to the laboratory for analysis . Other tests may also be performed on the blood samples to look for other potential conditions and potential issues.
Cervical and/or Vaginal SwabA swab of your vagina or cervix may be taken for further laboratory testing. These tests are used to look for infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, that could be responsible for unusual period pain .
HysteroscopyA hysteroscopy is performed by looking inside the cervix and uterus using an instrument called a hysteroscope. Biopsies (tissue samples) can be taken for further analysis to determine a diagnosis or cause of the period pain.
LaparoscopyA laparoscopy is a specific surgery used to look inside the stomach and/or pelvis to locate the issue causing your symptoms. This type of keyhole surgery involves a small tube and camera being placed inside the body to visualise the organs . Your GP will refer you to a specialist if this procedure is needed.
Treatment - How to Ease Period Pain?Seeing your GP will be important in finding appropriate treatment for your period pain. A management plan will be developed depending on the causes and diagnosis related to your period. Below are several treatments that may help with your symptoms.
Period Pain MedicationsDepending on your medical history and assessments, your GP may recommend over-the-counter or prescribe over-the-counter medications to help with period pain relief. Medicines that can be used to treat or ease symptoms include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), oral contraceptives and progestin-only pills .
Lifestyle ChangesChanging certain lifestyle habits may help reduce period pain. Your GP may recommend treatments such as diet, exercise and supplements. Referrals to other healthcare professionals, such as dietitians and exercise physiologists, may also provide additional benefits.
At-Home Strategies for Period Pain ReliefYour GP may also suggest other strategies to help with pain relief. Examples include:
- Using a heat pack
- Regular physical activity
- Breathing techniques
- Stress management
- Using a TENS machine
Other TreatmentsDepending on the cause(s) and diagnoses related to your period pain, your doctor may also advise other treatment and management plans, including :
- Referral to a specialist, such as a gynaecologist
- Psychosocial support
- Using medical devices
ComplicationsEverybody experiences period pain differently, ranging from being a simple inconvenience to significantly impacting daily living. Period pain can further be complicated through the involvement of other conditions, such as infections and stomach issues. GPs play a pivotal role in helping assess, educate and treat individuals with period pain.
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- Subasinghe, A. K., Happo, L., Jayasinghe, Y. L., Garland, S. M., & Wark, J. D. (2016). Prevalence and severity of dysmenorrhoea, and management options reported by young Australian women. Australian family physician, 45(11), 829-834
- Nagy, H., & Khan, M. A. (2021). Dysmenorrhea. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing.
- Reddish, S. (2006). Dysmenorrhoea. Australian family physician, 35(11).
- Ooi, C., & Dayan, L. (2006). Pelvic inflammatory disease.