How Much Period Pain Is Actually Normal?

Many people experience period cramps and other body discomfort during their menstrual cycle, but how much pain is too much? When should you worry and get advice from an adult in your life or a healthcare provider? The answer is that you should never be in so much pain that you can’t do your daily activities or have to skip school. However, if you do experience extreme pain, you don’t have to suffer in silence! You are not alone and there are treatment options available. 

What causes period cramps? 

During a period, the body releases hormones called prostaglandins which trigger muscle contractions to help the uterus shed its lining. As your muscles contract, the blood and oxygen supply to your uterus is cut off, and chemicals are released that trigger pain receptors. This is the way the body designed this process! It’s normal, but can hurt. 

Unfortunately there’s no conclusive reasoning as to why some people have more severe period pain than others, unless there’s an underlying health issue. It may just come down to differing levels of prostaglandins, or it may be that one person feels pain differently than another. 

What do typical cramps look like?

  • Pain during menstruation can occur in the abdomen or belly, usually below the belly button with cramps or up higher with nausea
  • Soreness of lower back, hips, or head (in the form of headaches)
  • Boob tenderness
  • Some people also get diarrhea or poop more frequently than usual

With this being said, the pain should never be worse than mild discomfort. 

How do I know if my period pain is too severe? 

Sometimes it can be hard to gauge when pain goes from mild to severe, so here are a few indicators that you might need to speak with a doctor:

  • Over the counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen don’t help ease your pain
  • Severe cramping is a new issue that you’ve never experienced with prior periods
  • You have a fever, are vomiting, fainting, or dizzy during your period
  • Cramps last longer than a few days
  • You’re in pain even when you’re not on your period
  • You have pain during sex 
  • Your periods are extremely heavy 
  • You are crying out in discomfort 
  • You have to skip school, miss out on activities, or change your schedule around your period 

The above bullets may be a sign that a different reproductive issue – like endometriosis or ovarian cysts – is the cause of your pain. Either way, there’s no harm in reaching out to a healthcare provider if you’re not sure!. 

What can be done?

Having any of these symptoms is nothing to be ashamed of. Many people deal with pain so you are not alone, and luckily there are treatment options to help reduce it. Find a gynecologist (a doctor that specializes in reproductive health) that you trust and speak to them about your experience.

The doctor may do a physical examination by pressing on your pelvis to feel for anything out of place, and they may even perform an ultrasound. An ultrasound is a way to see inside the body from the outside: a probe (looks like a wand) is put on the surface of the skin and sound waves travel through the tissues below, creating a picture. You can click here for more information! An ultrasound can help the gynecologist get a clearer image of your uterus, ovaries, or lots of other body parts. Based on your symptoms and age, an internal vaginal exam might be performed where the ultrasound probe is inserted into your vagina, but your doctor should always discuss the different types of tests with you to see what you’re comfortable with. 

Depending on what is identified as the problem you may be prescribed birth control pills, which change the levels of sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) circulating through the body and can reduce the level of prostaglandins (and consequently, pain). 

Stand Up for Yourself 

You know your body best. If you feel like your period pain isn’t typical for you, trust this gut feeling and go speak with a professional. If you find that your doctor is dismissing your pain, keep sticking up for yourself and find someone who will listen. It’s worth pursuing the matter, even if that means getting a second opinion. Periods don’t have to be associated with pain that keeps you from daily activities.

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