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‘Is period pain normal?’ and other FAQs

‘Is period pain normal?’ and other FAQs

At any given time, millions of women are having a period with potentially uncomfortable and disruptive symptoms. During your menstrual cycle, there are two times when your body is releasing hormone and two times when hormone production decreases. Those fluctuations in hormone levels can cause many different symptoms, including pain. So, is period pain normal?

For insight about whether your discomfort is normal or not, see the answers to frequently asked questions from out East Jefferson General Hospital women’s health team

Q: What symptoms can a period cause?

A: You may be familiar with symptoms that affect your body in the week or two before your period, which are known as premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Premenstrual syndrome symptoms can affect you physically and mentally, causing tender breasts, digestive issues, bloating, headache, irritability, fatigue, mood swings, difficulties concentrating and problems with sleep.

You may also experience cramping. Cramping can occur as part of PMS, or it can also occur in the first days of your period. The latter is known as menstrual cramps, which is also called period pain or dysmenorrhea.

Q: What can I do to find relief from period pain?

A: It is quite common to experience period pain. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, more than half of American women have period pain one or two days of each cycle.

The best way to treat your pain depends on the type of dysmenorrhea you have—primary dysmenorrhea or secondary dysmenorrhea.

Primary dysmenorrhea is the more common of the two and caused by the high level of prostaglandins in the body during a menstrual period. These chemicals are responsible for when your uterus contracts and relaxes, which is the cause of cramping.

In most cases, you can relieve primary dysmenorrhea with basic at-home care, including using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, applying a heating pad to your abdomen, taking a warm bath, doing relaxing activities or exercising.

Those measures may also provide relief for secondary dysmenorrhea in some cases. This type of period pain is caused by a disorder affecting the reproductive organs, such as endometriosis or fibroids.

Pain caused by secondary dysmenorrhea is often more severe and longer-lasting than primary dysmenorrhea, and it may not respond well to at-home care.

Q: When should I be worried about period pain?

A: If your period pain is intense, prolonged or disruptive to your daily activities, check in with your OB/GYN or another women’s health provider. It’s also important to see your provider if your cramps suddenly worsen, you experience period pain when you aren’t having your period or you develop severe cramps for the first time after age 25.

By reviewing your symptoms, conducting a pelvic exam and ordering additional testing, your provider can help determine the type of period pain you’re experiencing and offer suggestions for relief. Severe or frequent primary dysmenorrhea may be treated using hormonal birth control, such as oral contraceptives or an IUD, or prescription pain medications.

Treatment for secondary dysmenorrhea will depend on the specific condition causing your pain. Medications, physical therapy or even surgery may be needed to provide you lasting relief.

Women have unique health needs at every age and stage of life. Women’s health providers at East Jefferson General Hospital are here to provide care through them all.