Period pain – also called primary dysmenorrhoea – will affect most women at some point during their lives. As the name suggests, period pain is basically a pain suffered by women during their monthly period. It usually presents as a discomforting cramping sensation in the lower muscles of the stomach, which can sometimes spread to the lower back and thighs.
The sensation of period pain can vary; for some, the pain will come in intense spasms, whilst others experience a dull aching sensation instead. Period pain usually occurs at the same time as menstruation, and will normally last between 48-72 hours.
Period pain is caused by muscular contractions of the womb’s wall. During menstruation, these contractions become more intense, in order to encourage the wall to shed its lining. These stronger contractions cause the wall of the womb to press against the surrounding blood vessels, briefly cutting off the womb’s blood supply. Without blood, the womb becomes temporarily deprived of oxygen, which causes the affected tissues to release a pain triggering chemical. This, in turn, causes the body to produce another chemical called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins will cause the muscles in the womb to contract further, which will increase the intensity of the period pain even more.
In rare instances, period pain can be caused by an underlying medical condition. This kind of period pain is called secondary dysmenorrhoea. Some of the conditions that can cause secondary dysmenorrhoea include:
- Endometriosis: Where the cells that line the womb begin to develop elsewhere in the body, usually the ovaries and fallopian tubes. As these cells start to shed, they can cause intense pain.
- Pelvic inflammatory disease: A bacterial infection that affects the womb, causing it to become inflamed and irritated.
- Intrauterine devices: Also known as IUDs, is a contraceptive device made from plastic and copper. It fits inside the womb and is sometimes known to cause period pain.
- Fibroids: is a condition caused by non-cancerous growths inside the womb. These benign tumours can make periods heavier and more painful.
Some women experience more period pain than others. The reason for this is still not entirely clear. However, it is suspected to be due to a build-up of prostaglandins, where some women appear to suffer a larger build-up than others. The higher the concentration of prostaglandins, the stronger the pain-inducing contractions will be.