Period pain is caused by contractions in your womb as it works to shed and expel the lining. It's usually felt as cramping pain in your stomach, which can spread to your back and thighs. Period pain is different for each woman, and can vary from one period to the next.
Although these contractions are a natural and normal part of your menstrual cycle, they can be disruptive and uncomfortable.
When to seek advice
If period pain significantly disrupts your everyday life (for example, if you regularly need time off work), you should see your Doctor. Severe period pain can be a symptom of other conditions, such as endometriosis – a condition where parts of the womb lining are found outside of the womb – or fibroids, which are benign growths within the womb.
If you experience very sharp, one-sided, period-like pain – with or without vaginal bleeding – and if there is any chance you could be pregnant (even if you have used contraception), you should seek medical advice immediately, as this can be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy.
Managing period pain
• A warm bath or a hot-water bottle (wrapped in a towel or another insulating layer to protect the skin) placed on the tummy can help to ease cramps, as can gentle abdominal massage
• Quitting smoking is thought to reduce the intensity of period pain, and regular exercise, such as swimming or jogging, can also help. It might be the last thing you want to do when in pain, but exercise helps encourage your body to release endorphins which act as natural painkillers
• Using a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine may stimulate the release of endorphins. This is a small machine that works by delivering a mild electrical current, which interferes with the transmission of your pain signals and may help to reduce your pain
• Relaxation techniques like mindfulness or meditation can help to distract you from the pain
• If you feel up to it, light exercise – such as a walk, a swim, a gentle bike ride, yoga or pilates – can help relieve period pain. The exercise stimulates your body to release endorphins, which are natural your body's natural painkillers
You can also consider taking a pain relief medicine.
What pain relief medicines might help with period pain?
Medicines containing ibuprofen or aspirin are often recommended for period pain. These ingredients are available in many forms including tablets, caplets, capsules and liquids.
Ibuprofen and aspirin are not suitable for everyone, and you should always read the label before taking. Ask your pharmacist for advice if you're unsure.
Medicines containing paracetamol can also be used for period pain, although some studies have shown that paracetamol may be less effective than ibuprofen or aspirin. Paracetamol is available in many forms including tablets, caplets, capsules and liquids.
Paracetamol is considered suitable for most people to take, but as for any medicine, you should check the label to ensure it is suitable for you. You can visit our paracetamol page or ask your pharmacist for advice. If other painkillers have not been effective, talk to your pharmacist about your options. You may want to consider a medicine containing codeine.
Codeine-containing medicines often contain another ingredient such as ibuprofen, paracetamol or aspirin. Remember to check the ingredients of all the medicines you are taking, to make sure you are not accidentally taking too much of any one ingredient. As codeine can cause dependency, you should not take codeine-containing medicines for longer than three days unless advised by your doctor.
If you take too much pain relieving medicine
If you think you have taken too much of any pain relieving medicine, you should go immediately to your nearest Accident and Emergency department.
• Consider ibuprofen or aspirin for period pain, but remember the ingredients are not suitable for everyone. Your pharmacist will be able to advise you
• Consider taking paracetamol, although it may not be as effective as ibuprofen or aspirin at reducing period pain
• Visit your Doctor if periods are very painful, heavy or irregular, especially if they suddenly become so