Menstrual pain, or dysmenorrhea, is the most commonly reported menstrual disorder. More than half of people who menstruate experience pain each month. Primary dysmenorrhea is pain that comes with having a period and is often caused by natural chemicals in the lining of the uterus. Pain, such as cramps, breast pain, headaches and migraines, often fall under this category. Secondary dysmenorrhea is caused by a disorder in the reproductive system and can show up later in life. This pain can last longer than primary period pain and gets worse with time. Disorders that fall under this category include endometriosis, uterine fibroids and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Learn more about period pain and when to see a doctor below.
Cramping is a very common period symptom. Uterine cramps can be noticeable and very painful around menstruation, affecting the abdomen, back or thighs. Some people also feel pain from cramps in the middle of their cycle during ovulation. Extra prostaglandins or hormone-like substances likely cause cramps when they are released from the uterine lining as it prepares to shed with the period. Cramps can vary in severity of pain, length of symptoms and frequency of occurrence. Severe menstrual cramps can be associated with more serious conditions such as endometriosis or adenomyosis, so it’s important to have a doctor evaluate symptoms. There are effective treatments for menstrual cramps. Advocate for yourself, make sure your doctor understands the severity of your pain and listen to your body. Severe menstrual pain should be communicated to a doctor so it can be treated.
A premenstrual symptom often experienced is breast pain. Breast pain during a menstrual cycle is normal and not concerning. If this pain is worrying you, consult a doctor for an exam and more information about treatments. If you experience breast pain that happens outside your cycle, doesn’t go away or if any lumps are found, you should consult a doctor.
Headaches and Migraines
Tension headaches and migraines are often associated with the menstrual cycle. Menstrual migraines are thought to be caused by hormonal changes before the start of the period. Women can experience headaches as part of premenstrual syndrome, around ovulation and following the menstrual cycle. A doctor can help manage headaches and migraines through medication, lifestyle changes and hormonal balancing techniques.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that can occur when hormones are out of balance. Symptoms can include irregular periods, periods that are very heavy or very light, excess hair growth on the face and body, hair thinning on the head, skin issues, insulin resistance, weight gain, difficulty getting pregnant, depression and anxiety. When you go to a doctor to have your symptoms evaluated, they may ask in-depth questions about your medical history, perform blood tests and do a pelvic ultrasound to diagnose the root of your symptoms.
The tissue that grows and sheds in the uterus is called endometrial tissue. When this tissue grows where it isn’t meant to be, endometriosis occurs. Like endometrial tissue in the uterus, this tissue grows and sheds with every menstrual cycle, but when it’s in the wrong area, it doesn’t have a way of exiting the body. This causes an inflammatory response and severe pain. Symptoms and complications can vary based on where the tissue has grown. You should see a doctor to diagnose the issue and manage painful symptoms if you experience symptoms like premenstrual/menstrual cramps that are very painful; pain during or after sex; painful bowel movements or urination; pain in the abdomen, lower back or thighs; heavy periods or infertility.
This is not an exhaustive list of menstrual pain symptoms and disorders. If you are concerned about painful periods, consult a doctor for a personal evaluation.