Painful Periods – a Simple Breakdown by AskAwayHealth
January 19, 2019
Updated April 2023
Are your periods causing you pain? Our comprehensive guide explains the common causes of menstrual pain and offers solutions to ease your discomfort.
‘Painful periods’ – a condition known as Dysmenorrhoea – actually does exist.
What is it about the menstrual process that could make it painful in some women and less so in others?
We must recognise that for women who experience periods, the intensity of pain is different from one woman to the next.
Some women go through their monthly flow with minimal pain and disruption to their activities while others fall along a scale from moderate to severe pain.
To explain menstrual or period pains, lets look at the structure of the womb.
The womb is a muscular organ and has very considerable blood and nerve supply.
As a muscular structure, the womb is always contracting but usually this is so mild most women do not feel it.
Imagine the heart – another muscular organ which is constantly contracting to send blood around the body; but we do not feel anything as we go about our daily activities.
Period pains happen when the contractions become more forceful to expel tissue and other material from the womb lining.
When the womb muscles contract, they squeeze on the blood vessels, interrupting the supply of oxygen to the womb tissues for a short while.
The body recognizes this interruption and absence of oxygen and releases chemicals which cause pain.
In addition to the pain releasing chemicals triggered by muscle contraction, the body also releases hormones called Prostaglandins.
Prostaglandins encourage more contraction and thus more pain.
This process continues until the process of clearing the womb ends and that menstrual period ends.
However, just why some women experience more pain than others remains unclear.
Some scientists believe that those women experiencing more pain have a greater build-up of Prostaglandins than others.
But to be truthful, we are not 100% sure.
One of the fairly common conditions that family doctors or general practitioners will see a woman for is the problem of painful periods.
In some women, pain during the periods could happen alongside very heavy bleeding (Menorrhagia), or an irregular bleeding pattern with no abnormality present.
It may also run in families.
On the other hand, we know certain abnormal conditions which can cause a woman to have painful periods such as Fibroids or Endometriosis.
So briefly, we’ve looked at why a woman can experience painful periods.
It seems to be a function of the nature of the womb, its work and the hormones produced to help it carry out this work.
Fortunately, we have developed measures to help women who have to experience this almost every month for a significant portion of their lives.
Some women manage the condition with painkillers, and non hormional medicines which can reduce the intensity of pain during the periods.
Others can use hormones such as the combined contraceptive pill to reduce both heavy and painful periods.
For women who have completed their families, hysterectomy (the removal of the womb) is a recognised option to provide relief from the symptoms.
So is it worthwhile having a chat with your doctor if you have painful periods that prevent you from carrying out your usual activities for up to a week every month?
Absolutely. Read more about this here.
What’s your experience with painful periods?
Did you get treatment and how long did it take for you to get something that worked best for you?
Please let us know in the comments.
NHS UK What Causes Period Pain?
Editing by AskAwayHealth Team
All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising Medical Practitioners on a wide range of health care conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality health care.
The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified health care practitioner.
To discuss your condition, please contact a health practitioner or reach us directly
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