Illustration of a woman hugging a hot water bottle - Libresse

We often ask the question – “why do periods hurt?” Here, we will talk about the causes and symptoms so you’re completely up clued up on period pain.

Period pain is an annoying part of experiencing the menstrual cycle. While some people really suffer with cramps, others may not get any symptoms at all! For you, it may even vary cycle to cycle. The good news is that there are things you can do to help period pain. Let’s understand and learn more about what causes period pain in the first place, and what symptoms to look out for.

So, what causes period cramps and painful periods?

Most women – studies suggest up to 80% [1] – experience pain or discomfort before and during their periods, and this is mainly caused by the uterus (womb) contracting in order to shed the uterine lining. Further chemicals called prostaglandins are also being made in your body which leave your womb muscles contracting even more – which we’re afraid to say is an extra layer of pain. These are the same chemicals that can lead to period constipation and period poop.

What adds to painful periods is that are the blood vessels surrounding your womb are put under pressure leading to the blood and oxygen supply being interrupted. With no oxygen in your womb, chemicals are produced that result in pain.

There are also some other causes of period pain. Sometimes stress can affect your periods by intensifying PMS symptoms including period pain. While it’s less common, period pain can also be causes by an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis, or be caused by types of contraception such as intrauterine devices (IUD).

What does period pain feel like?

Period pain feels like painful muscle cramps in your stomach, but it can also spread to other areas of your body. It might come in intense spasms, or you may experience a dull but constant pain instead. 

I'll have on-off minor cramps for a couple of days and then the pain will hit in a wave. It stretches from below my ribs down to my knees. [2]

Whatever you experience is normal for you. Everyone experiences it differently…

The pain on my lower back would be so bad it feels like someone is climbing out of my pelvis with a dagger. [3]

How long does period pain last?

Period pain usually begins at the same time as you start to bleed at the very beginning of your cycle, however some people experience pain a few days before their period comes. It can last for 48 to 72 hours [4], although it may last longer. You might notice that the pain is most intense when your bleeding is heaviest. When you start having pain as a teenager is often when it will be at its worst before easing as you become older.

What are the symptoms of period pain?

Though you might associate getting period pain with the area around your abdomen, you can get period pain in a few other areas of your body. This includes your: 

• Pelvis

• Back

• Thighs

• Stomach

Illustration of where period pain can occur

The severity of these period cramps differs from one person to another. They can vary from a mild ache to a more severe pain. This could also translate into the following symptoms though:

• Vomiting

• Dizziness

• Headaches

• Loose stools

• Tiredness

• Bloating

What should I do if I have constant or really bad period pain?

If you’ve tried to ease the symptoms with painkillers or other self-help measures and period pain is still getting in the way of your life, then it might be time to see your doctor – especially if you have severe or constant period pain or the normal pattern of your periods suddenly changes.

Although cramps are a natural part of having your period, there are many ways in which you can ease the pain as much as possible. Read our full guide on ways to stop period pain, as well as our articles explaining what is PMS and how you can exercise during your menstrual cycle.


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