Every men­stru­at­ing per­son expe­ri­ences their period quite indi­vid­u­ally. But what are this period pain, why do we have it and what can we do about it? In this arti­cle I will explain to you which pain is nor­mal and when you should seek med­ical help.

What is period pain (dys­men­or­rhea)?

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. And this can have a very neg­a­tive effect on the person’s atti­tude to life and well-being. By the way, the med­ical term for heavy painful men­strual bleed­ing is “dys­men­or­rhea”. Because there are dif­fer­ent types of period pain:

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, Uter­ine fibroids (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. 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.

Period pain: What is normal?

The symp­toms usu­ally appear a few hours before the start of your period and last for a day or two. Every men­stru­at­ing per­son 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. These are then the painful and/or dif­fi­cult men­strual peri­ods with great dis­com­fort, which in med­i­cine are called dysmenorrhea.

INFO-BOX: Track your period pain

You might be won­der­ing whether your men­strual symp­toms are (still) nor­mal? It often helps to talk with other men­stru­at­ing peo­ple about their own period prob­lems. This will give you a bet­ter sense of how oth­ers expe­ri­ence their peri­ods. Here are some ques­tions that can help you 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.

When should you see a doc­tor for period pain?

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 needed.

Self-help for a pain-free period

First of all, you don’t have to climb moun­tains or lift moves on the days of your period (as is often por­trayed in adver­tise­ments). Take time for your­self and retreat. Among my per­sonal tips for period pain are warm­ing aids like hot water bot­tles, heat­ing pads and, of course, tea. If you feel the urge to exer­cise, try some light yoga exer­cises. Often lit­tle things like lis­ten­ing to music, pod­casts or audio books also help. A bal­anced diet can also help against period pain. But the most impor­tant thing is: find the right self-care that suits you personally!

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.

Britta’s tips for period pain

You want some more tips for period pain? Then here is our video on Britta’s tips! Hope, you enjoy!

For more tips and tricks regard­ing your period, men­strual health and cool facts about men­stru­a­tion, fol­low our Insta­gram or Tik­Tok channel!


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.