Introduction 

Most women experience period pain at some point in their lives.

Period pain – or dysmenorrhoea – is usually felt as painful muscle cramps in the lower tummy, which can sometimes spread to the back and thighs. Sometimes the pain comes in intense spasms, while at other times the pain may be dull but more constant.

The pain usually starts when your bleeding begins, and normally lasts for 48-72 hours.

Read more about the symptoms of painful periods.

Why it happens

Most cases of period pain occur when the muscular wall of the womb contracts and presses against nearby blood vessels, briefly cutting off the oxygen supply to the womb and triggering pain.

Occasionally, period pain can be caused by an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis or pelvic inflammatory disease. This is known as secondary dysmenorrhoea.

Read more about the causes of painful periods.

How common is it?

Period pain is extremely common. Some studies suggest up to 90% of menstruating women experience pain and discomfort during their period.

It's difficult to categorise period pain as it can affect every woman differently. But one study of more than 400 women with period pain found symptoms were moderately painful in around 20% of women, and severe in 2% of cases.

In another study, up to 14% of women reported frequently being unable to go to work because of period pain.

However, period pain that isn't caused by an underlying condition tends to improve as you get older. Many women also notice an improvement after they have had children.

What to do

Most cases of period pain can be treated at home. You can buy a number of painkillers over the counter to help manage your pain. There are also a number of self-help techniques which may help, such as applying heat or gentle exercise.

Find out how you can manage period pain at home.

If your period pain is severe, visit your GP to check that no medical condition is causing your pain.

Read about the diagnosis of period pain caused by an underlying medical condition.




Menstrual cycle: animation

This animation explains in detail how the menstrual cycle works.

Media last reviewed: 21/02/2013

Next review due: 21/02/2015

Page last reviewed: 05/11/2014

Next review due: 05/11/2016