Is my period pain normal?
Sadly pain is part of the package for people who have periods. Pain alongside tiredness, bloating, cravings, headaches and vomiting are some of the common side effects for people during their period. Balancing all of this with your day to day life and stresses is very impressive- at Lilypads we personally think recognition is needed! However, period pain is rarely given much attention. What pain level is ‘normal’ can be super confusing and many of us struggle to get the support and advice needed. Today we are going to dive into period pain, exploring some of the signs that your pain might be the sign of something else and providing you with some of our own experiences and tips to cope or explain this to a health professional.
Lilypads are not health professionals but are a team of people who all have different levels of period pain and experiences, this along with verified research has helped create this article.
So first, what are period pains and what causes them?
There are 3 main factors all related which cause period pains directly…
1. The uterus contracts to help the lining shed
2. Chemicals (called prostaglandins) encourage the womb to contract more
3. An excess of these chemicals cause eaters to contract more strongly putting pressure on the blood vessels around the uterus and interrupting the blood and oxygen supply causing pain.
Of course the biology behind cramps is usually not what we are most concerned with.
The lived and felt reality of the pain is what we are most concerned with. Pain is not only felt in your stomach, it can be felt in the thighs, lower back and pelvis. It is also not an exact science, one month you might feel fine and the next not so great- this can be a bit annoying! Read our blog on coping with PMS: Cramps on our website for coping with general period pain! Sadly, there is not huge amounts of research on why cramps impact some people more than others and why this can change…the factors which have been explored include how heavy your period is, how early you start your period, some lifestyles, age and history of infections. All of these factors are generally uncontrollable and need further research!
Is this pain normal?
Knowing what pain is normal is tricky to determine as we can never experience someone else’s period. There are some guidelines which generally outline what is normal. We want to stress that you know your body more than anyone! If you are concerned or feel that there is something wrong you have the right to directly approach your GP with your concerns and ask them to investigate.
We want to give a general set of guidelines to give you confidence to investigate any concerns further. Generally, pain is seen as “normal” if the pain improves with normal pain medication, you can continue with daily activities and bleeding is within average range (under 80ml of blood per period- which is about 4 full menstrual cups, 16 saturated regular tampons or pads).
Signs there may be something else happening and you should see your GP…
Periods are irregular
Bleeding between periods
Pain during sex
Bleeding post sexual activity
heavy bleeding (above 80ml)
Cannot complete daily activities
Painful bowel movements
Period last longer than 7 days
Difficulty getting pregnant
Secondary pain, often visualised by some of the above symptoms can be the result of another health condition. Again, it is not defined rigidly and there is commonly overlap of symptoms which again can make it tricky to know what is normal and what may be the sign of something else. Who knew period pain could be so complex?!
Tips to approach your doctor…
If you are struggling with period pain and think it may be linked to something else a diagnosis from a GP is super important. However, we know how tricky this can be. It is sadly common for peoples experiences with periods to be dismissed, below are some of our own tips (some tried by our team themselves) to help you at the doctors. As a team we also want to say sorry if this is something you relate to. We think it sucks that period pain is so dismissed and we stand in support of those working to ensure that periods are taken more seriosly in healthcare!
1. Take a friend or family member: Taking someone with you can be super useful. Maybe run through what you want to say to them before you go into the appointment. By doing this they can support you, or remind you of things you wanted to say to make sure you explain the whole story. Having a third party can also make you feel more confident and they can ask additional questions if needed.
2. Diary: Recording your pain levels, symptoms and amount of blood lost during your period and during your entire cycle can be very useful to track any major changes. It can also highlight anything which you may have thought was completely normal and would not have raised otherwise. Things you should record include how long your period lasts for, how often you change your product, what product you use and its absorbancy (written on the packs), where in the body you feel the pain, does the pain go away with painkillers, does it stop you carrying on your day, can you stand etc
3. Try another doctor or a specialist: If you are getting no where with your local GP try someone else. Perhaps book an appointment with someone specialised in this area (you can ask your GP for this), or simply another doctor or nurse who maybe more willing to explore this option with you.
Incredible organisations and resources who know more than us!
Lilypads are not experts in this field- we are a team of people with real experiences of periods and a passion to research and learn. We have listed some of our favourite organisations and people that do incredible work to ensure that people with periods are listened to and can support those with specific reproductive disorders.
We love a chat
If you want to read our other blogs or find our more about our work (including our work against period poverty internationally and a comfortable period pad in the UK)