If you are a person who menstruates, you would have experienced at least one of the symptoms of a period. These symptoms include abdominal cramps, mood swings, bloating, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), breakouts, sore breasts, fatigue, headaches, bowel issues (i.e. diarrhea), and lower back pain.
Some people don’t really experience any of these symptoms, some can feel some of them quite mildly. What we will explore here is when you experience one of these symptoms quite intensely; so let’s talk about cramping and period pain.
Cramps are very common. The pain they cause in your lower abdomen, referred to as dysmenorrhea, is due to uterine contractions. It can feel like throbbing pain, constant pressure, or a dull ache that continues throughout your period. They can range in duration and pain intensity. For some people, they can last for hours, and for some, they can last for days. You may experience cramping before or during your period. Cramps usually peak in intensity around a day after you start your period and are at the most intense when the menstrual flow is the heaviest. The pain may not be just within your abdomen, it can also spread to your lower back and inner thighs. The discomfort from cramps is not unusual but there is a point where period pain is not normal.
A sign that your menstrual cramps are not normal is if they do not subside after having pain relief medication. If over the counter medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen aren’t working or aren’t strong enough, then it’s time to head to the doctors.
If you are experiencing nausea, vomiting, or dizziness, this also indicates that maybe your pain and cramps are not normal. If the pain is coupled with heavy bleeding or if your period lasts for a long time, you should go to a doctor. If your period pain is affecting your daily life and means you cannot complete day to day tasks, then you need to seek help. Your period should not stop you from living your life.
Your severe pain could also be an indication of more serious health conditions. This includes endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), cervical stenosis, adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), or fibroids.
Anything that makes you concerned your period is not normal or you are in too much pain, go to the doctors. It may not be anything serious but it’s important to get it checked out and take care of your health.
But what can you do if you have painful period cramps?
Here is my advice on the steps to take to when looking into how to manage your pain.
#1 Go to the doctors (and by far the most important step)
Unfortunately, people who menstruate experience a lot of dismissive attitudes towards their menstruation pain. Due to menstruation being classed as a “women’s issue”, there is a serious issue within women’s health and gynecology of not believing or being indifferent to the pain of women. Women are often socialized to think the pain is something they have to endure, which is not something you should not do. There is also a stigma attached to periods, with the topic being seen as “dirty” and people are hesitant and uncomfortable to talk openly about things that use the words menstruation, periods, bleeding, and vagina. This means that not a lot of young people who are experiencing their periods for the first time don’t learn about normal vs abnormal periods and associated health conditions that they could have.
Find the right type of doctor
Go to specific women’s health services. There are places such as Family Planning and Planned Parenthood that are set up to help people with these issues. You can google specific health services like this in your country. If this is not available, find a GP that you trust and have built enough of a relationship with that you trust and are confident they won’t dismiss your pain. A good GP or sexual health nurse will ask about things like what other symptoms you have and the regularity of your bleeding/your cycle to determine what could be happening in your body.
Look into hormonal contraception
Hormonal contraception can be great at easing menstrual cramps. The combined pill and the hormonal IUD are the most effective contraceptive methods that help ease period pain in the way change your menstrual cycle. Now, this may not be the best method for everyone. Each type of contraception works differently for everyone so it’s important to have a conversation with your doctor about this.
This is important to discuss pain management options with the help and guidance of your doctor. This may be discussing different medications or looking into alternative medicine/treatments. This could even be looking into taking certain supplements or changing your diet. You can look into how to help relieve your cramps by taking vitamins or eating specific foods, but make sure your doctor approves of these methods or would recommend them for you before you try anything. Each body reacts differently to different things so what works for someone else may not work for you.
Remember that in terms of medication, there are over-the-counter medications as well as prescription medicine (i.e. nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)) that can help. The best and most appropriate option for your body will be determined by you and your doctor.
Transcutaneous nerve stimulations (TENS): This is a treatment that uses low voltage electrical currents from electrodes placed on the skin to relieve pain. This option will not be accessible to everyone but it is something that exists and can be a good option for some people.
Use heat pads/packs or hot water bottles. Alternatively, you could have a hot bath. The heat helps relax the muscle tissue and therefore there should be less cramping.
Exercise: Now I know that the last thing you want to do when you have cramps is exercise, so this recommendation is only for when your cramps are less severe. This can help alleviate some of that pain. It helps release endorphins which are the hormones that can improve your mood.
Orgasms: Not only are orgasms a mood booster but the hormones released during orgasm (dopamine and serotonin) can act as your body’s own pain relievers. So you should definitely try masturbating on your period (you can try sex too but make sure it isn’t painful).
None of these methods is the perfect solution to your pain. If your cramps are quite bad, no amount of vitamins, heat packs, or orgasms are going to soothe the pain. These are just suggestions to help manage the pain or ease the other pain/symptoms associated with periods. What options may work best for you and are accessible to you is a conversation you need to have with your doctor.
Please know that you never have to just suffer through this pain. Your pain is valid and you can and should seek medical help for your painful periods.