Period pain – Information for girls

Photo of teenagers (PantherMedia / Lev Dolgachov) Some girls don't have any period problems, and others have period pain or abdominal cramps. Find out what causes the pain and what you can do about it.

If you have period pain, you're not alone: About 3 out of every 4 girls and women sometimes have period pain, and 1 out of 10 have very severe pain. Moderate to severe period pain is especially common in younger women under the age of 20.

But there’s a good chance that your period pain will get better over time: most young women find that their period pain gets better, or even goes away completely, within a few years of their first period.

What happens during your period?

During a woman’s reproductive years, the lining of her womb gets thicker every month. The lining of the womb is made up of mucous membrane tissue. This supplies nutrients to the embryo if the woman gets pregnant. If she doesn’t get pregnant, she will usually get her period every month.

When you have a period the lining of your womb is shed and leaves your body. To shed the lining, the muscles of the womb tighten (contract) and relax in an irregular rhythm. The contractions are sometimes not noticeable, or might lead to some discomfort in your lower belly. But they can also cause pain and cramps. Period pain may be felt in the back or legs. Some girls and women also feel nauseous, vomit or have diarrhea.

What causes the pain?

It's not known why some women have painful periods and others don't. Certain chemical messengers in the body, known as prostaglandins, play a role. Women who have period pain probably make too many prostaglandins or might be particularly sensitive to them. Most young women’s bodies get used to these substances over time, though, so the pain often gets better or goes away completely.

What can I do about the pain?

Girls and women try out different things to reduce their period pain. It's best to find out for yourself what helps you the most. The options include the following:

  • Warmth and relaxation: Heat packs, patches or a hot water bottle. Exercises and relaxation techniques, such as pilates or yoga.
  • Anti-inflammatory painkillers like diclofenac, ibuprofen or naproxen. These have been proven to relieve the pain. They sometimes have side effects such as stomach problems and headaches. But most girls and women tolerate them well.
  • Birth control pills: These prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary). If a woman doesn’t ovulate, the lining of her womb doesn’t become as thick as usual, and she has a lighter period. Birth control pills have been shown to relieve period pain. They are particularly considered as a treatment option in girls who would like to use the pill as a birth control method anyway. Possible side effects include headaches and nausea.

It's not known whether other treatments such as acupuncture or dietary supplements help.

If your period pain is so bad that you have to stay at home, or if you would like to take medication for the pain, it's best to talk to your doctor. He or she can help you find out what is causing the pain and discuss the treatment options with you.