Every mens­trua­ting per­son expe­ri­en­ces their own period indi­vi­du­ally. The term period pro­blems is used to describe various types of dis­com­fort or pain that can occur during mens­trua­tion. While some people have no sym­ptoms at all, others suf­fer from severe mens­trual pain every month. That is why we are going to look at what types of period pro­blems exist, what is nor­mal and why we actually have them.

Primary period pain is mostly mild

Mens­trual cramps are divi­ded into pri­mary and secon­dary period pain. Pri­mary period pain is mil­der and can be relie­ved natu­rally with (simple) home reme­dies and a healthy diet. Alt­hough the pain is unplea­sant, it is beara­ble and usually harm­less. The cau­ses of pri­mary period pain are not dise­ase rela­ted and are very indi­vi­dual. Rea­sons for mens­trual pain can be, for example, the early onset of the first period, low body weight, a long mens­trual cycle or even gene­tic pre­dis­po­si­tion. Ask the mens­trua­ting people in your family how they expe­ri­ence or have expe­ri­en­ced their period. Maybe your expe­ri­en­ces with mens­trual pro­blems are simi­lar? The good news is: Sta­tis­ti­cally spea­king, the pain decre­a­ses with age.

Secondary period pain is caused by a disease

Secon­dary period pain, on the other hand, is cau­sed by an under­ly­ing gyne­co­lo­gi­cal or orga­nic dise­ase. These can be, for example, endo­me­trio­sis, polyps, can­cer or inflamma­tion of the repro­duc­tive organs. Endo­me­trio­sis is the most com­mon cause of secon­dary period pain. In some cases, the sym­ptoms are so severe that those affec­ted can­not go about their nor­mal daily lives for several days a month. To relieve secon­dary period pain, the focus is on the tre­at­ment of the under­ly­ing dise­ase. It is best to speak directly to your gyne­co­lo­gist if you suf­fer from severe mens­trual pain. 

Why do we experience period pains?

You may ask yourself: Where does mens­trual pain come from? During your period, the ute­rus con­tracts cramp-like, causing con­trac­tions of the ute­rine mus­cles. The mus­cle move­ments are cau­sed by hor­mo­nes, for example pro­sta­glan­din. Depen­ding on the strength of the con­trac­tions, these can cause pain. But why does the ute­rus con­tract at all? Every month during the mens­trual cycle, new ute­rus lining forms to pre­pare for the fer­ti­li­zed egg. If fer­ti­liz­a­tion does not occur, the lining of the ute­rus is not nee­ded and is rejec­ted along with the unfer­ti­li­zed egg. This con­su­mes a great deal of energy from the body. The mus­cles of the ute­rus con­tract in waves, which can lead to cram­ping pain. The rhyth­mic mus­cle move­ments also cause the blood cir­cu­la­tion wit­hin the ute­rus to be inter­rup­ted by the cramps. This can cause a lack of oxy­gen, which is the rea­son for addi­tio­nal period pain (ischemic pain). 

Which period problems are there?

Mens­trual pro­blems are very uni­que and can occur in up to 150 dif­fe­rent forms. The com­p­laints can range from an unplea­sant fee­ling in the back to diar­r­hea and severe abdo­mi­nal cramps. Diz­zi­ness, nau­sea, a fee­ling of ten­sion in the bre­asts or tired­ness are also typi­cal. Hea­da­ches and abdo­mi­nal cramps are among the most com­mon com­p­laints during mens­trua­tion. Bes­i­des phy­si­cal pain, mood swings can also occur.

Menstrual cramps: What is normal?

The sym­ptoms usually appear a few hours before the start of your period and last for a day or two. All mens­trua­ting people can be affec­ted by mens­trual cramps. Up to a cer­tain point, period pain is nor­mal, espe­cially at the begin­ning of your period. But it is dif­fi­cult to say exactly to what (pain) degree period pain is nor­mal. As long as the mon­thly mens­trual pain is beara­ble and simple home reme­dies help, ever­ything is pro­bably okay. Howe­ver, if the sym­ptoms during your period (severely) restrict your ever­y­day life and your own per­for­mance, you should make an appoint­ment with your trus­ted gynae­co­lo­gist. This is because dise­a­ses, such as endo­me­trio­sis, can be the cause of the severe pain. Pain­ful or dif­fi­cult peri­ods with sym­ptoms are medi­cally cal­led dysmenorrhea.

INFO-BOX: How can I track my period pain?

You might be won­de­ring whe­ther your mens­trual sym­ptoms are (still) nor­mal? Often it helps to talk to other mens­trua­ting people about your period pro­blems in order to get a bet­ter fee­ling of how others expe­ri­ence their peri­ods. Here are a few ques­ti­ons that can help you to clas­sify your pain:

  • On a pain scale from 1 to 10: Where would I rank my period pain?
  • Can I ease my com­p­laints with simple home reme­dies or do only pain­kil­lers help?
  • What kind of mens­trual pro­blems do I experience?
  • Do I suf­fer from the same com­p­laints every month?
  • Does my period inter­rupt my ever­y­day life? Do I have to can­cel dates or appoint­ments because of the pain?
  • Do the sym­ptoms have a nega­tive effect on my well-being or my productivity?

Some­ti­mes it helps to ask yourself these ques­ti­ons every month anew and to create a small period jour­nal over time. This way you will get a good pic­ture of your sym­ptoms, reco­gnize pat­terns and deve­lop a fee­ling for which sym­ptoms and pain are ‘nor­mal’ for you. Take your notes with you to your next appoint­ment with your gyne­co­lo­gist and get medi­cal advice on it.

Period pain: When should you see your doctor?

In case of severe mens­trual pro­blems that restrict your ever­y­day life, a medi­cal exami­na­tion is important! Sud­denly occur­ring mens­trual pain or chan­ges in the dura­tion or inten­sity of your peri­ods should always be pro­fes­sio­nally exami­ned. It is bet­ter to have ano­t­her check-up to make sure that ever­ything is fine and to get the necessary medi­cal sup­port to treat your mens­trual pro­blems, if necessary.

How are you experiencing your period?

How are you fee­ling during your period? Are you more of care­free period per­son or do you suf­fer from all kinds of mens­trual cramps? What are your most com­mon com­p­laints? And has it always been like this or has your period chan­ged over the years? Tell us about your sym­ptoms and how you feel during your period.

Illus­tra­tion by Mag­da­lena Otter­stedt / Kopf­über Design for Vulvani

Britta Wiebe, period education, Vulvani
Co-Foun­der Vulvani | britta@vulvani.com | Web­site | + posts

Britta Wiebe is the co-foun­der of Vul­vani. She loves rese­ar­ching, wri­ting and designing new arti­cles or inno­va­tive edu­ca­tio­nal con­cepts about mens­trua­tion all day long. When she is not tra­vel­ling the world, she enjoys spen­ding time with her loved ones in the beau­ti­ful city of Ham­burg in Germany.