Painful periods (dysmenorrhoea)

Most women know what period pain is like. Some women suffer severe pains which can cause vomiting, diarrhoea and fainting. Period pain usually starts a short while before your period and continues for the first couple of days of bleeding. Pain that lasts throughout your period and that starts days before, may not be normal and you may want to discuss this with a doctor.

The pain is often cramping in nature and felt in the lower abdomen, back groins and thighs. It can radiate to the knees.

What can you do about it?
Be prepared! Get some painkillers from the chemist and take them as soon as you aware your period pain is starting. These often work very well. You can try a hot water bottle on your tummy while the painkillers work. Take them as soon as you think your period is starting, or if your periods are regular, take them before your period starts.

  • Ibuprofen +/- codeine
  • Paracetamol +/- codeine
  • Aspirin

If simple measures donít help and the period pain is getting in the way of your life see your doctor.

Your doctor may suggest
  • Mefenamic acid (Ponstan). This is a similar drug to ibuprofen but one that can work particularly well for period pain. Take it regularly three times a day. You can take paracetamol as well if necessary, but not aspirin. Again, take them before your period starts if possible
  • Naproxen. Another drug that is similar to mefenamic acid and ibuprofen.
  • The combined oral contraceptive pill. This can work extremely well for period pain. Some women continue to get period pain on the pill, changing the type of pill may help. If your periods are heavy and painful the pill can be a very good choice as it usually lightens the flow.
  • Progestogens. These hormones are sometimes prescribed to help period pain. They are taken from day 5-25 of your cycle.
  • If your periods are heavy and painful an intra-uterine progestogen containing contraceptive device may be appropriate.

    NB Aspirin, ibuprofen, mefenamic acid and naproxen can cause irritation of the lining of the stomach and can aggravate asthma. Check with your pharmacist if you are concerned.

    Further information

This article published on
25 November 2005

Next review date 11/1/2013


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