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Period Cramps: What Causes Menstrual Pain?

Period pain occurs frequently and is a normal part of the menstrual cycle. For some women it might be mild and infrequent whilst others experience bad period pain that affects their daily lives.

Common treatments for period pain include painkillers like aspirin and ibuprofen and a prescription medication called mefenamic acid. You can also read our other suggestions for how to get rid of period cramps.

Period pain symptoms

Period pain is generally felt as muscle cramps in the lower abdomen. These pains can also spread to the lower back and thighs too sometimes.

The pain can be a dull, constant pain or it can be more of a sharp, stabbing pain. This may also vary from one period to the next, so you might find that you experience little or no pain with one period and more pain with another.

It’s also possible to have period pain but no period.

What causes period pain?

Period pain is caused by the wall of the uterus contracting. These contractions happen all the time anyway, but they are usually so mild that they can’t be felt. During menstruation, the contractions become stronger as the lining of the womb is shed.

As well as being a usual part of the period cycle, menstrual cramps can also be caused by an underlying medical condition. This is more common amongst women aged 30 to 45.

The following conditions can cause period pain:

  • Endometriosis: With endometriosis, the cells that usually form the womb lining start to form in other areas like the fallopian tubes and ovaries. When these cells shed, they can cause a lot of pain. It has been suggested that any women who experiences severe period pain should see their GP in case they have endometriosis, since this painful condition can affect fertility.

  • Fibroids: Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that can grow in the womb. They can cause painful, heavy periods.

  • Pelvic inflammatory disease: This is when you have severe inflammation in your uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries due to a bacterial infection.

  • Adenomyosis: With adenomyosis, the cells that usually form the womb lining start to form in the wall of the womb, and this can make your periods painful.

If you have period pain due to an underlying condition, you may also experience:

  • Irregular periods

  • Bleeding between periods

  • A bad smelling and thick vaginal discharge

  • Painful sex

If you have extreme period pain and any of these additional symptoms, you should get checked out by your doctor to eliminate any underlying conditions.