Painful periods (dysmenorrhoea) - Treatment 

Treating painful periods 

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 several self-help techniques that you can try.

Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

In most cases of period pain, your GP will either prescribe or advise you to take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). This type of medicine works for approximately 7 in 10 women with period pain.

You can buy some NSAIDs over the counter, such as ibuprofen and aspirin. If these NSAIDs are not effective, your GP may prescribe you an alternative NSAID, such as naproxen or mefenamic acid.

NSAIDs are not suitable for people with asthma, or those with stomach, kidney or liver problems. Pregnant or breastfeeding women should also avoid taking them. Aspirin should not be given to anyone under 16 years of age. If you are not sure if NSAIDs are suitable, speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Other painkilling medicines

If NSAIDs are not suitable for you or you do not find them effective, you may be able to take an alternative painkilling medicine. Paracetamol has very few side effects and is easily available over the counter. However, studies have shown that it does not reduce pain as effectively as an NSAID.

If you are not getting enough pain relief from NSAIDs or paracetamol alone, your GP may prescribe you a painkiller called codeine to take as well.

Combined oral contraceptive pill

If you need a contraceptive as well as relief from period pain, your GP may prescribe you a combined oral contraceptive pill.

Combined contraceptive pills can help to ease period pain because they thin the lining of the womb and help to reduce the amount of prostaglandin chemicals that your body releases. If the lining of the womb is thinner, the muscles do not have to contract as much when it needs to shed away as part of your monthly menstrual cycle. Your period will also be lighter.

If you are not able to take the combined contraceptive pill for whatever reason, contraceptive implants or injections are good alternatives.

Self-help

There are a number of ways you can treat your painful periods at home. Although you may not stop your pain completely, these measures can often help to ease or reduce it.

  • Exercise: although you may not want to exercise while you are having a painful period, keeping active can help to reduce pain. Try some gentle swimming, walking or cycling.
  • Heat: applying heat to your tummy can help to ease your pain. You could try using either a heat pad or a hot water bottle. If using a hot water bottle, make sure the water is hot, not boiling, as you may damage your skin.
  • Warm bath or shower: taking a bath or shower can help to relieve your pain, while also helping you to relax.
  • Massage: light circular massage around your lower abdomen may help to reduce pain.
  • Relaxation techniques: you might want to try a relaxing activity, such as yoga or Pilates, to help distract you from feelings of pain and discomfort.
  • Transcutaneous electronic nerve stimulation (TENS): a TENS machine works by releasing small electrical impulses that stimulate the nerves in your pelvic area, helping to block pain. The impulses are released through sticky pads (electrodes) that are placed on your skin. TENS machines are widely available from pharmacies and can be used at home. Read more about TENS.

Period pain caused by a medical condition

If you have not managed to control your pain after three months of treatment with NSAIDs and/or the combined contraceptive pill, your GP may refer you to see a specialist for further investigations to rule out an underlying medical condition.

If your period pain is caused by an underlying condition, your treatment will depend on which condition you have. For example, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) may require antibiotics to treat the infection, while fibroids may need to be surgically removed.

Read about the treatment of PID and the treatment of fibroids.

Although you may be prescribed painkillers to take in the meantime, it is important to treat your underlying condition.

Page last reviewed: 16/07/2012

Next review due: 16/07/2014

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