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.