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Suffering? Expert-Approved Tips for Managing Painful Periods From Home

March 13, 2024

Read on to learn about six tips that for managing painful periods – in your own home. If severe, or disrupting daily activity – seek urgent medical attention.

Painful periods, also known as dysmenorrhoea, have two types recognised in medicine: primary and secondary.

Primary dysmenorrhoea (PD) is when no abnormality exists in the body, but painful periods are happening.

Secondary dysmenorrhoea is when the painful periods are due to an underlying problem, which may be endometriosis, fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease [PID]) or by intrauterine device (IUD) insertion. 

Black lady in pain from primary dysmenorrhoea with home trreatment options including TENS machine, hot water biottle, drugs like Ibuprofen, warm drinks, chocolate, yoga

Causes of Primary Dysmenorrhoea (Painful Periods)

Dysmenorrhoea /painful periods are the most common gynaecological reasons young girls/teens present to the doctor.

 In the majority of cases, it is due to primary dysmenorrhoea, which happens due to the body making excess amounts of a chemical known as prostaglandins during the menstrual period

Prostaglandins cause the womb to cramp a lot, leading to pain. We often make the diagnosis clinically, so unless it’s severe, the doctor may not do any tests to diagnose primary dysmenorroea.

 I know you will ask – how do I know what is severe?

Well, it’s different for everyone, but it’s a pain you cannot live or function with. We all have different thresholds.

Examples of ways severe pain could affect you:

  • distressing experience of pain
  • unable to go to school or work
  • not able to get of the bed, walk upright etc
  • generally any type of pain that is interfering with your life

Risks of Suffering from Painful Periods

Before discussing what you can do at home for pain from primary dysmenorrhoea, can we tell who is more likely to have PD?

Age

  • We have observed that it seems more common in girls who begin their periods earlier. Typically, the age of starting the period is a range.
  • Some girls start around 10 or 11, and others may not start till about 13, 14 or 15 years.

Heavy Flow

  • Girls or ladies with heavy menstrual flow tend to have more pain.
  • If your mum, sisters or cousins had painful periods, you may have it as well – and we hear this commonly from patients.

Pregnancy

  • For older ladies, never having been pregnant may also be associated with painful periods.

Characteristics of Primary Dysmenorrhoea

Now, if I see a girl, teen, or lady complaining of painful periods, I’m more likely to think it is PD if:

  •  The pain begins a little before the periods and is worse on the first couple of days – and may last 2- 3 days before it starts to get better as the period flow continues. 
  • This is different from experiencing pelvic pain at other times of the cycle as well as during the periods.

 When the problem begins

  • Next, usually, girls with PD start their periods and have no pain with the cycle for several months (usually 6-12 months), and then they begin to have painful periods. 
  • With SD, they may be pain-free for several years and then start to have painful periods years later.

 Symptoms outside the menstrual cycle

  • There are usually no symptoms outside the periods: they are generally well (unless they are having heavy periods and getting anaemic). 
  • This may be different from SD when, thanks to fibroids or Endometriosis, women may have frequent pelvic pain during and outside the periods, as well as painful sex, problems with constipation, passing urine, etc.
  • That said, some girls may be so ill with problems like vomiting, feeling dizzy, unwell, constipation, and tiredness while they have PD, which may be related to the severity of the pain. 

Location of pain

  • Usually, they may have pain in the lower abdomen; it may travel to the back/middle on the R or L side or even down the leg. It may be a sharp or dull pain.

Other symptoms when you have painful periods from PD

  •  Having non-gynae symptoms is quite common, such as vomiting, nausea and diarrhoea.
  •  Some girls can’t get out of bed with bad headaches, dizziness, feeling very tired and upset or irritable.

Seeing the Doctor for Painful Periods

Now, although I’ve said we see PD very commonly, sometimes we can mistake SD for PD, so it’s important to see a doctor, especially with severe painful periods interfering with school or work or just making you feel ill or if the symptoms seem different to some I’ve mentioned.

The doctor will try to get extra details of the menstrual cycle, the nature of symptoms, family history and so on.

 They can run a general assessment, including checking vital signs like blood pressure and blood sugar, taking a urine test and performing an abdominal examination.

 Routinely, we may not perform a pelvic exam in young girls unless this is considered essential for a diagnosis and things do not appear to be PD, and a paediatrician may perform it. This could also be if usual treatments are not helping and other baseline tests are normal. 

In PD, the examination is often normal, and we do not find any abnormalities different from what one may have with fibroids, e.g., a lump you can feel over the abdomen.

Treating Primary Dysmenorrhoea at Home

 So, a young girl – especially an adolescent or teen has PD.

It’s uncomfortable, perhaps not severe, but every month, those days around the period are getting to be a grind at home, and mums, dads, and girls dread it; what can one do?

You can do a few things before you get to the doctor.

Tracking

 First, and I know you might think this is odd, I encourage tracking your periods – keep a period diary on the phone or use an app.

This helps to identify when things are happening and if you can place a pattern to it.

Warm Heat

 Next, pain relief – warm heat can be used against the abdomen and pelvis – most often, what we have at home is a water bottle or heat pack that provides warm heat – never hot, please. This can provide some relief for the cramps.

Alternate Position

Next, change position or adopt a comfortable position. Most girls imagine this is lying in bed on their sides, but sometimes, lying on your back or tummy may help. 

Exercise

In addition, gentle exercise like stretching may help. I’ll add a few poses on the screen that may help if done a few times for those who can. I appreciate if someone is feeling dizzy or weak, they cannot. Otherwise, gentle stretching can improve circulation, which could help with pain relief.

Warm Drinks

Some girls feel better with warm drinks. Some suggest that warm chocolate might help, and some herbs like ginger tea – but the science behind that could be more robust.

 Avoid excess quantities of chocolate if you want to try that.

Drugs

What about medicines – yes, there are some you can buy over the counter.

First is drugs that belong in the group known as NSAIDs. Examples are Ibuprofen or Naproxen. These fight inflammation and are most effective because they help reduce the amount of the chemicals we discussed earlier – prostaglandins.

Taking them regularly as soon as the period is due or the pain starts can be helpful.

For a drug like Ibuprofen, for pain relief you can have 200-400mg tablets three times daily – please ensure they are taken with or after food, never on an empty stomach.

In addition, for those who can’t take Ibuprofen, perhaps if they are asthmatic or for some other reason, paracetamol can help.

 Again – this is why I said period tracking is good. You can estimate when your next period is due, and start taking the paracetamol a day before the period is due or as soon as pain begins, and continue regular use for 2-3 days until the painful cramps subside.

So you can do these things at home for mild or moderate painful periods – anything that’s more severe or getting other worrying symptoms needs a discussion with the doctor.

Learn more about period-related discussions, and contact a doctor if you need to talk things over.

More Reading

Period pain – NHS (www.nhs.uk)

Scenario: Primary dysmenorrhoea | Management | Dysmenorrhoea | CKS | NICE

Editing by AskAwayHealth Team

Disclaimer

All AskAwayHealth articles are written by practising  Medical Practitioners on a wide range of healthcare conditions to provide evidence-based guidance and to help promote quality healthcare. 

The advice in our material is not meant to replace the management of your specific condition by a qualified healthcare practitioner.
To discuss your condition, don’t hesitate to get in touch with a health practitioner or reach us directly.

Image Credits: Canva

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