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What Is the Story with Period Pain?

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If you are one of the 49.6% of people who ever have or ever will menstruate, this question will undoubtedly crop up at some point. As I often say to despairing customers, if it was easy, men would probably do it. And if the cursed ‘man flu’ has taught us anything, we would hear about it to no end! But sadly, this terrible joke brings no relief to anyone. 

Please allow me to explain what is going on, and how we can make it as bearable as possible. It is important to note that some level of discomfort is (sadly) very normal. A study of Australian school girls showed that 93% of women experience discomfort while menstruating. This is called primary dysmenorrhoea.

If your pain is crippling, you should seek medical advice because you may be experiencing secondary dysmenorrhoea. There are more targeted treatments for more severe cases, and it is not worth soldiering on if respite is available. 

First, let us discuss the common kinds of period pain (primary dysmenorrhoea) and how best to treat it. If any of these symptoms goes beyond what is normal, or what might be considered tolerable, I would always advise that you seek the advice of a health professional, or call an ambulance.

Primary Dysmenorrhoea

Cramps

This is the most common kind of pain associated with menstruation. Each cycle, hormone-like lipids called prostaglandins work to contract the uterus to rid itself of the lining. These prostaglandins are also involved in the process of inflammation and the registering of pain which is where discomfort enters the picture. Typically, this process takes place during the first 24-48 hours of your period.

Whilst it is incredibly normal, it is equally incredibly annoying. It is always worth trying to deal with the pain without running to medicine too quickly. In this vein, heat packs positioned around your tummy and lower back can be a helpful first step to deal with cramps. Keeping warm in bed under a blanket can go a long way to feeling better. To attack it from many fronts, pain relievers like ibuprofen or panadol can provide some general respite.

If these aren’t quite hitting the spot, I will usually recommend Naprogesic as a more targeted option. Naprogesic treats the cause of period pain by inhibiting the production of prostaglandins. It provides effective temporary relief from the aches and pains associated with period cramps. We have these in stock, and they can be on their way to you ASAP.

Headaches

Headaches are also a fairly common part of period pain. For some women, this is a regular part of their cycle. For others, it is once in a blue moon. Whatever the frequency, we want to get rid of them as soon as possible. Your menstrual cycle is regulated by the hormones estrogen and progesterone.

These also play with the chemicals in our brain that is linked to headaches hence the truly lovely link between periods, and your head feeling it is in a vice. Headaches are always best treated early and with intentionality. Make sure you’re in a dark comfortable space, and you are drinking plenty of water, and a cold cloth on the forehead can often act as an effective source of pain relief.

If the headache persists beyond these measures, there are several medical options worth considering. Again, panadol or ibuprofen are worthwhile first steps, but Naprogesic might be considered your heavy artillery against the invading force of a period headache. It is an anti-inflammatory drug which works to temporarily relieve the pain.

Breast Pain

This is less common, but still entirely normal within reason. If the pain is severe, it is always worth consulting a health professional. Again, we can thank our old friend estrogen for enlarging the breast ducts which causes pain and tenderness. The increase in progesterone also makes the milk glands swell.

The result is breasts can sometimes feel heavy and the slightest of movements can become incredibly uncomfortable. This, when partnered with cramps and a headache, is not an enviable position. I cannot truly empathise with this cocktail of pain.

All I can do is sympathise and do my best to recommend treatments which minimise the intensity and duration. As always, we come back to the faithful anti-inflammatories, like ibuprofen, or aspirin.

Secondary Dysmenorrhoea 

As I mentioned earlier, some people will experience secondary dysmenorrhoea. This is usually associated with an underlying reproductive disorder, such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, pelvic inflammatory disease or fibroids. 

  1. Endometriosis affects a woman’s reproductive organs and results in period pain which is described as severe or crippling. It occurs when cells similar to those that line the uterus are found in other parts of the body. 
  2. Adenomyosis is a condition of the uterus where the cells that typically form a lining on the inside of the uterus extend out in the muscle wall of the uterus. It will usually involve heavy periods and an enlarged uterus (pressure or tenderness in your lower abdomen). 
  3. Pelvic inflammatory disease occurs when an infection contracted via sexual contact spreads from the vagina to the upper reproductive organs. It is usually caused by the sexually transmissible infections (STIs) chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Fibroids are non-cancerous growths or lumps of muscle tissue that form within the walls of the uterus. 

Each of these do require more specialised medical care. Whilst it may be confronting, it is always worth listening to those who are experts in this field. This goes beyond an anti-inflammatory or a quiet dark room.

There we have it. I profoundly wish I had a silver bullet to end this kind of pain. But hopefully, understanding what is happening can give some comfort as we can rationalise that the end is in sight for many of these discomforts.

We have a wide range of anti-inflammatories here at Aussie Pharmacy. Ordering is quick, easy and your package will be on its way in no time. 

All the best, 

Floyd