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In focus: Let’s take a closer look at period pain and PMS

Research shows that lots of women experience discomfort or pain associated with their menstrual cycle throughout their life. The technical term for this period pain is ‘dysmenorrhoea’. 

At its simplest, period pain is caused by contractions within the uterus that encourage the womb lining to shed due to your monthly period. For many women, these contractions are mild or cause discomfort.

Physical pain

However, some women will experience significant physical pain with these contractions. Medical opinion on why some women experience much stronger menstrual contractions than others varies, but it may be due to a build-up of pain-triggering chemicals called prostaglandins.

What can I do about my period pain?

Period pain primarily affects the abdomen, but in some women it can spread to the back and legs too. While you may not feel like exercising at all during your period, gentle activity such as swimming or a brisk walk can help. Heat, in the form of hot water bottles or hot baths, may also help. You could also try relaxation techniques such as massage, yoga and pilates. 

You can take painkillers such as ibuprofen to help the pain, which may reduce the amount of prostaglandins in the body. If over-the-counter pain medication is not tackling the extent of your period pain, discuss prescription painkillers with your GP.

What else could my period pain be?

While less common, there could be other reasons for serious period pain. It could be a result of other conditions that exacerbate the pain, such as:

  • Endometriosis 
  • Fibroids
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Contraception such as an IUD or coil

The above conditions may also be accompanied by bleeding in between periods, irregular periods, pain during sex and unusual discharge as well as bad period pain. Ask your GP if you experience these symptoms, or otherwise experience a change in your monthly period.

The emotional impact – PMS

Your monthly period may also lead to emotional issues, due to what is called pre-menstrual syndrome or PMS. It is estimated that nearly all women who have periods will experience some form of PMS at some point in their life. Some elements of PMS are physical, such as bloating or changes to your skin and hair, but usually this term refers to the emotional aspects.

Everyone will experience PMS differently, but some common symptoms include:

  • Mood swings
  • Feeling upset 
  • Anger or irritability
  • Low mood and tearfulness
  • Lowered self-esteem

These feelings are due to the hormonal and chemical changes in your body during your menstrual cycle.

Other things that may help

 One thing you can do to gain insight into your own cycle is keep a journal – note down your feelings, mood, physical changes and any other symptoms into a calendar and see if a pattern emerges month by month. This may reveal days in which you are particularly stressed or feeling down, which you can then plan for in advance – or simply understand the reasons behind your feelings. 

Talk about your feelings with your family, friends or partner so they can understand what you’re experiencing. You could also look into exercise, as regular exercising has been linked to less problems with PMS. Other treatments to try include reducing caffeine and alcoholic for a trial period before your period to see if this helps. 

If your PMS is affecting your life long-term, chat to your GP to discuss some potential future treatments.

For more lifestyle and health advice, click here for previous blogs from Vhi.