The process of your uterus shedding its lining every month is called menstruation. Some discomfort during your period is common, but intense or crippling pain that interferes with your life is not.
Having painful periods is a condition called dysmenorrhea. It’s the most commonly reported menstrual disorder: More than half of menstruating women report pain for at least one or two days every month.
Painful periods can be classified into two types:
- Primary dysmenorrhea usually starts soon after the first period. It’s often caused by prostaglandins, which naturally occur in the body.
- Secondary dysmenorrhea typically occurs later in life and often stems from a reproductive disorder.
No matter which one you’re experiencing, there are ways to address and alleviate the pain.
What Causes Pain During Your Period?
A variety of painful symptoms may accompany menstrual periods. Sometimes symptoms can occur shortly before your period actually starts. They typically taper off during the first few days of your period.
Cramps are caused by the hormone-like lipids called prostaglandins that make your uterus contract to help get rid of its lining.
Prostaglandins are also involved in the inflammation and pain responses. They reside in the uterine lining and are also released from this lining.
Once released, they increase the force of the contractions during the first couple days of your period. The higher the level of prostaglandins, the more severe the cramping is.
Very high levels can also cause nausea and diarrhea. As the lining is shed, the levels of prostaglandins in your body is lowered. This is why cramps typically subside after the first couple of days of your period.
Other possible causes of menstrual cramps include:
- pelvic inflammatory disease
- cervical stenosis
Pain relievers like ibuprofen (Advil) can help relieve cramps. But if the pain isn’t lessened at all with an over-the-counter pain reliever, talk with your doctor about whether hormonal treatment is an option.