Dealing to Painful Periods

Too many women believe that painful periods are simply part of being a woman – and so they just, well, deal with it. The reality is there are many things a gynaecologist can do to improve women’s periods, from recommending evidence-based self-care practices to more significant interventions.

If pain levels are at the stage where you can’t participate in life as usual or need to take time off work, it’s probably time to see a gynaecologist.

In medical-speak, painful periods are called dysmenorrhoea and they’re often the worst right after puberty occurs. The usual symptoms include painful cramping sensations in the lower abdomen – these are usually strongest in the first or second day of menstruation. Cramps can often be accompanied by a range of related symptoms such as:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation and/or diarrhea
  • Headaces
…not to mention the mood swings, bloating, bizarre food cravings, lower back pain and tender breasts that many women experience alongside the pain.Dealing with this discomfort each month can become really disruptive to life. If pain levels are at the stage where you can’t participate in life as usual or need to take time off work, it’s probably time to see a gynaecologist.

What can a gynaecologist do to help with painful periods?

Lots! But first they’ll need as much information as possible about your cycle and symptoms. This really helps in identifying patterns in the pain and will inform the kinds of tests they run. While over half of women will experience some discomfort during menstruation, ongoing severe pain might be a sign of secondary dysmenorrhea. This means that your painful periods could be related to an underlying condition.

Ok. So what kind of conditions might cause painful periods?

The most common underlying cause of excessively painful periods is endometriosis, a disorder suffered by one in ten women. This is where endometrial-like tissue – similar to the tissue lining the womb (uterus) – grows in other parts of the body, usually the pelvis. At its worst, the condition can be debilitating for women; and even at its mildest, extremely disruptive to life.
Other underlying causes could be an inflammation of the fallopian tubes or growths in the uterus, called fibroids. There are also some types of intrauterine devices (IUD) used for contraception that can make periods painful.

What will the doctor need to know about my periods?

The first consultation is likely to include a lot of discussion about your cycle and what happens to your body during your period. A gynaecologist is a specialist in women’s health so their questions will be more comprehensive than your GP’s. Give as much information as possible about your period cycles, including when the pain starts, how long it lasts and when it is most severe. It’s useful to note down your symptoms against a calendar or use a period tracker app to record what’s going on for you.

What tests will the doctor run?

Your doctor will want to rule out endometriosis and the other common causes of menstrual pain. They will feel your abdomen for abnormalities and are likely to do an internal (vaginal) examination to examine the cervix and to assess the size and shape of your womb (uterus) They might take some swabs to confirm that no infection is present. An ultrasound may be ordered so the doctor can see a clear picture of the uterus. If they need to examine the inside of the abdomen, a laparoscopy might be scheduled. This is a surgical procedure where a thin telescope is inserted through a small incision in the wall of the abdomen.

What kinds of treatments are there for painful periods?

For mild dysmenorrhea, the doctor can recommend a range of self-care practices that are proven to reduce pain and discomfort. This includes gentle exercise, pressing a heat source against the abdomen and reducing caffeine and alcohol. Making tweaks to your usual diet can really help, and your gynaecologist might refer you to a dietician for specific recommendations for diet and supplements. Anti-inflammatory pain relief like ibuprofen is also proven to help.

Hormonal treatment
Taking contraceptive pills or having an IUD fitted (intrauterine device – such as the Mirena) can reduce the frequency and intensity of periods, which in turn reduces pain. This works by changing hormone levels to suppress ovulation and menstruation.

Surgical treatment
In cases of secondary dysmenorrhea, where period pain is linked to an underlying condition, your gynaecologist will talk you through the options available through surgical treatment. Often these surgeries are minimally invasive and can be conducted in the comfort of our clinic.

Who should I see regarding painful periods?

Dr Geeta Singh
Obstetrician, Gynaecologist

Dr. Ange Beard​
Obstetrician, Gynaecologist, Fertility Specialist
Dr. Greg Phillipson
Gynaecologist, Fertility Specialist

Dr. Pip Shirley
Obstetrician, Gynaecologist​