Most women experience period pain at some point during their life. Your pain may range from a constant dull ache to intense fleeting spasms that occur during the first day or two of your menstrual cycle.
The type of pain you feel may vary from period to period, and you may even have months where you feel no pain at all. Given the wide variation in type and frequency of period pain, you may be wondering: How much pain is normal during your period?
At Cary OB/GYN in Cary and Morrisville, North Carolina, we understand you have questions. Our women’s health experts specialize in pelvic pain and want you to know what causes period pain, how much pain is normal, and when you should have your period pain evaluated.
The normal causes of period pain
During your menstrual cycle, the lining of your uterus builds up with blood and tissue in preparation for pregnancy. If you don’t get pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone levels drop, triggering your period and shedding of the lining of your uterus.
During your period, the muscles in your uterus tighten (contract) to help shed the blood and tissue. When your uterus contracts, it cuts off blood supply and oxygen to your uterus. When deprived of oxygen, your uterus releases chemicals that trigger the pain sensation.
Your body also releases hormones called prostaglandins that increase uterine contractions and may worsen your pain. This type of period pain usually occurs during the first two days of your period.
Painful periods (dysmenorrhea)
Dysmenorrhea is the term used to describe pain during menstruation. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, dysmenorrhea affects about 50% of menstruating women. There are two types:
Primary dysmenorrhea is the period pain caused by the contractions of your uterus. Women with primary dysmenorrhea may start to experience pain sensations 1-2 days before their period or when they start bleeding.
With primary dysmenorrhea, you may experience pain in your lower abdomen, lower back, or thighs that lasts 12-72 hours. The pain may range from mild to severe and cause other symptoms such as nausea, diarrhea, or fatigue.
For most women, primary dysmenorrhea improves as you get older and may disappear altogether after you have a baby.
Secondary dysmenorrhea is period pain caused by a condition that affects your reproductive organs, such as endometriosis or fibroids. With secondary dysmenorrhea, your period pain may start a few days before your period and last longer than normal menstrual cramps.
Your pain may even continue after your period has ended and worsen over time.
When it’s time to get help for period pain
Period pain is a normal part of your menstrual cycle. However, you should contact us for an evaluation if your period pain:
- Doesn’t improve with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Worsens over time
- Is severe and affects your daily routine
- Occurs when you’re not menstruating
If you’re over age 25 and experiencing severe period pain for the first time, you should also schedule an appointment.
Most women experience some amount of pain during the first couple of days of their period. But many get relief from their discomfort with at-home care such as NSAIDs, a heating pad, or gentle exercise.
However, if your period pain is severe or lasts longer than a few days, we can provide the care you need to diagnose and treat your period pain. Call Cary OB/GYN today at the location nearest you.