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Dysmenorrhoea or painful periods

Dysmenorrhea is throbbing or cramping pains in the lower abdomen just before and/or during menstruation. It is very common, with more than half of women who menstruate having some pain for 1–2 days each month. 2 For some women, the pain can be severe enough to interfere with their daily activities for a few days every month. 1

Signs & symptoms of dysmenorrhoea

These include: 1

  • Throbbing or cramping pain in your lower abdomen that can be intense
  • Pain that starts 1 to 3 days before your period, peaks 24 hours after the onset of your period and subsides in 2 to 3 days
  • Dull, continuous ache
  • Pain that radiates to your lower back and thighs
  • Some women also have:
    • Nausea
    • Headache
    • Dizziness
    • Loose stools

Causes of dysmenorrhoea

Most cases of menstrual cramps are due to tightening of the muscles in the uterus wall caused by a hormone called prostaglandin (primary dysmenorrhoea). 3 If the uterus contracts too strongly, it can press against nearby blood vessels, cutting off the supply of oxygen to the muscle tissue of the uterus, which results in pain. 3

Sometimes menstrual cramps can be caused by a disorder in the woman’s reproductive organs (secondary dysmenorrhoea) including: 3

  • Endometriosis – a condition in which the tissue lining the uterus (the endometrium) is found outside of the uterus
  • Fibroids – benign growths on the inner wall of the uterus
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease – an infection caused by bacteria that starts in the uterus and can spread to other reproductive organs.

Treatment of dysmenorrhoea

There are many effective treatments for dysmenorrhoea. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as anti-inflammatory medication at regular doses, starting the day before you expect your period to begin can help control the pain of cramps. 1,2

Other relief measures include: 3

  • Placing a hot water bottle on your lower back or abdomen.
  • Avoiding foods that contain caffeine
  • Avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol
  • Massaging your lower back and abdomen
  • Resting when needed
  • Regular exercise (women who exercise regularly often have less painful periods) 4

Oral contraceptives are also sometimes prescribed for dysmenorrhoea because women who take oral contraceptives have less menstrual pain. 3

If menstrual cramps disrupt your life every month or if your symptoms progressively worsen or if you started having severe menstrual cramps after age    25, 1 speak to your Medicare Pharmacy healthcare professional about our doctor video consultation.

References: 1. Mayo Clinic. Menstrual pain. [online] 2017 July 15 [cited 2018 Jun 25]. Available from URL: 2. American College of Obstetrics & Gynecology. Dysmenorrhea: Painful Periods. [online] 2015 Jan [cited 2018 Jun 25]. Available from URL: 3. Cleveland Clinic. Dysmenorrhea. [online] 2014 July 13 [cited 2018 Jun25]. Available from URL: 4. Abbaspour Z, Rostami M, Najjar Sh. Effect of Exercise on Primary Dysmenorrhea. J Res Health Sci 2006;6(1):26-31.

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