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Painful periods

Period pain clinic in Manchester at The Alexandra Hospital

Many women suffer from painful periods at some point in their life. But for some the pain can be severe enough to disrupt normal life for several days a month. If you suffer from very painful periods there are a number of things you can do to alleviate the pain, but it may also be worth visiting your doctor or a consultant gynaecologist to see if there is a way your condition can be treated. 

The medical term for painful periods is dysmenorrhea, and there are two types, primary and secondary. 

Primary dysmenorrhea is most common and is a result of the normal menstrual process. 

Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by another underlying problem. 

The symptoms of primary dysmenorrhea usually start within the first three years of menstruation and continue into your 20s. 

The intensity of symptoms often decreases with age, especially after childbirth. 

Secondary dysmenorrhea can start at any time, and is not necessarily limited to the time of your period. It does not usually reduce after childbirth. 

The most common symptoms of both primary and secondary dysmenorrhea are: 

  • Cramping pains in the lower abdomen
  • Pain in the lower back and thighs

Other symptoms can include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Headache 

The lining of the womb thickens each month in order to provide an environment for a fertilised egg to grow in. If the egg is not fertilised, then the womb sheds its lining and your period begins. In both types of dysmenorrhea cramping pain is a result of the womb contracting to release its lining. Sometimes pain can also be caused by a decreased blood supply to the womb. 
Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by a number of secondary conditions including: 

  • Endometriosis – where the same type of tissue that lines your womb (endometrium) grows in areas of your body where it should not be, usually the ovaries, fallopian tubes and pelvic area
  • Uterine fibroids or polyps – growths attached to the wall of the womb
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease – a sexually transmitted bacteria causing infection of the reproductive organs

If you are worried about secondary dysmenorrhea you should visit your doctor or a consultant gynaecologist. They will carry out tests to see if you are suffering from any secondary condition.
For more information on the conditions listed above and how they are diagnosed please see our fact sheets on the individual conditions.

You can help to relieve your period pain in a number of simple ways, like relaxing in a warm bath, holding a hot water bottle or having a back or stomach massage. You can also make changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as giving up smoking, eating less sugar, cutting down on alcohol and taking gentle exercise.

Taking an over the counter painkiller and/or anti-inflammatory (such as Ibuprophen) may ease the pain. Some products also contain ingredients that help to stop cramps. If these do not help, your doctor may prescribe a stronger painkiller.

Accessing private healthcare is easy, whether you choose to pay directly or use private medical insurance.

If you are paying for yourself, we can usually offer an upfront cost which you can then choose to pay in full or access one of our easy payment options.

If you have insurance, we can arrange direct settlement with your insurance provider, although you should check in advance to see if your treatment is covered. For more information, visit our private medical insurance page.