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 you can try.
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).
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're not sure if NSAIDs are suitable, speak to your GP or pharmacist.
Other painkilling medicines
If NSAIDs aren't suitable for you or you don't 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 doesn't reduce pain as effectively as an NSAID.
If you're 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 your body releases.
If the lining of the womb is thinner, the muscles don't 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.
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.
- stop smoking – smoking is thought to increase your risk of period pain
- exercise – although you may not want to exercise while you're having a painful period, keeping active can help to reduce pain; try some gentle swimming, walking or cycling
- heat – you could try applying either a heat pad or a hot water bottle to reduce pain; make sure you don't use boiling water as you could 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 through sticky pads, placed on your skin, that stimulate the nerves in your pelvic area and help to block pain; TENS machines are widely available from pharmacies and can be used at home
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 more information about:
Although you may be prescribed painkillers to take in the meantime, it's important to treat your underlying condition.
Page last reviewed: 05/11/2014
Next review due: 05/11/2016