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Why *Exactly* Is Your Period So Painful?

a stock image of a woman with her hand on her stomach, turned away, experiencing menstruation pain

Menstruation is the normal vaginal bleeding that happens every month—if you're regular—during a woman's menstrual cycle. When this happens, many women experience cramping in their lower abdomen, which can also spread to other parts of your body like the back or thighs. Other symptoms also include headaches, dizziness, and nausea. For some, it's a mild discomfort, but for others, the pain can be so severe that they aren't able to go about their day normally. This is called dysmenorrhea. There are two types of dysmenorrhea: primary and secondary. 


Primary dysmenorrhea is the more common of the two; this is the kind of pain that isn't caused by an underlying medical condition. These menstrual cramps can occur a day or two before your period arrives. It peaks in the 24 hours of the onset of your cramps and lasts for a few days. It's possible to experience less pain as you get older or after you've had a baby. 

menstruation pain: what are the causes and why does it happen

Secondary dysmenorrhea, on the other hand, usually starts later in life. And it is caused by conditions you develop that affect your uterus and reproductive organs. Unlike with primary dysmenorrhea, which you can anticipate, this pain can begin before your menstrual cycle and last even after it ends. 

Menstruation pain: What causes general period pain?

When you have your period, the uterus contracts and sheds the lining in your womb. Mild contractions happen, and some women don't really feel this. But when this happens, the blood supply (and as a result, oxygen supply) gets cut off, and the tissues in your womb releases chemicals that trigger pain. Hormone-like substances called prostaglandins makes the womb contract more, which increases the pain and causes more severe menstrual cramps. 

Menstruation pain can be a symptom of other medical conditions:


Still an unfamiliar territory for many medical professionals, endometriosis is pretty common among women. Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue in your uterus grows or attaches to other organs in your body. Unfortunately, it's difficult to diagnose because it's different for every woman.

The most common symptoms are extreme period pain and pelvic pain, but other signs include heavy periods, periods that last more than a week, bleeding between cycles, gastrointestinal pain, pain during sex, leg and back pain, painful bowel movements, and struggling to get pregnant. 

Fibroids in the uterus

Fibroids are non-cancerous growths or tumors inside or outside the uterus. You can have more than one fibroid and not even show symptoms, but those who do can develop an enlarged uterus. These tumors can put pressure on your uterus, which is sometimes painful. Other symptoms are: lower back pain, leg pain, heavy periods, abdominal swelling, bloating, pain during sex, and constipation. 

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Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease is an infection that occurs in female reproductive organs: uterus, cervix, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. PID is caused by different kinds of bacteria, including bacteria caused by sexually transmitted diseases like gonorrhea and chlamydia. Women who have PID show symptoms like pain in the lower and upper abdomen, pain during sex, pain while urinating, irregular bleeding, and fevers. 

Cervical stenosis

Also referred to as "closed cervix," cervical stenosis is a rare condition where the cervix is so small or narrow that it restricts menstrual flow. This can be painful. In some cases, it can even be "closed off." There are women who are born with this condition, but it's also possible for this to develop later in life. This condition can cause infertility because if you're trying to get pregnant, the sperm won't be able to access the uterus. 


Another rare condition, adenomyosis is when tissue lining the uterus grows into the muscular wall, which makes them thicker. This can make your period heavier and even last longer; additionally, it can cause inflammation, pressure, and pain. Doctors still don't know much about this condition, only that it has been linked to higher levels of estrogen. Adenomyosis usually disappears after menopause, when the body's estrogen levels naturally decline. 


Menstruation pain: relief

There are a few ways to relieve the pain or discomfort you feel when you're on your period. Take a warm bath or use a heating pad on your back, abdomen, or pelvic area. Massage your abdomen. Do light exercises or practice relaxation techniques. Resist the urge to eat too many food that can cause bloating and eat light meals instead. Some people also take painkillers like ibuprofen. If you suspect that there's something else going on and the pain you're experiencing is keeping you from performing normal tasks, it's time to see a doctor. 



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