What is period pain?
Period pain happens in your lower abdomen (tummy). It comes during or just before your period.
If you’ve always tended to have painful periods, it’s unlikely to be a sign that anything is wrong. Period pain is usually caused by your womb contracting as your period begins.
For some people though, the pain may be due to an underlying medical problem, such as endometriosis or fibroids. This is more likely if your periods become painful years after they first started.
What are heavy periods?
Heavy periods are difficult to define. A ‘heavy’ period can mean different things to different people. But it usually means the amount of blood loss during your periods is hard to manage and affects your quality of life. Signs that your periods are heavy might include:
- needing to change pads or tampons after less than a couple of hours, or empty a menstrual cup more often than recommended
- needing to use more than one product at a time, such as a tampon and pad together
- passing clots bigger than 2.5cm
- your period lasting for longer than seven days
In about half of cases, there’s no particular reason for heavy periods. But sometimes there may be underlying medical problems, such as endometriosis, fibroids or polycystic ovary syndrome.
What helps with heavy and painful periods?
There are lots of things you can do to help you to cope with the discomfort of painful or heavy periods. Here are some ideas.
- Take over-the-counter painkillers, including ibuprofen and paracetamol. Ibuprofen may help to reduce heavy bleeding, as well as pain. A GP can prescribe stronger painkillers and other medicines to help with heavy bleeding if you need them.
- Use a hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen to help relieve pain.
- Have a warm bath to relax.
- Try relaxation techniques or gentle exercise such as yoga to help with the pain and stress of period problems.
- Try a back or stomach massage to help with pain.
- If you smoke, try to give up. Smoking is thought to increase the risk of period pain.
- Try a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) machine. You apply the TENS machine to your skin and the device produces small electrical pulses, which are thought to relieve pain.
- Explore different sanitary product options. There are more products on the market than ever before, including period pants and menstrual cups, as well as reusable and disposable pads and tampons. If you’re dealing with heavy periods, it’s worth trying a few options to find out what suits you.
There’s no evidence that any particular diet can help with period problems. But if you have heavy periods, it’s particularly important to make sure you get enough iron in your diet, to avoid anaemia. Iron-rich foods include red meats, dark green vegetables (like spinach and kale), nuts and seeds. Speak with your GP if you show signs of anaemia, such as feeling weak and tired. They may prescribe iron supplements if anaemia is confirmed.
You may find tracking your period using an app, or recording it in a diary, helps. This may help you to see a pattern and know what to expect, so you can prepare better. There are many apps you can download on your smartphone to track your periods and keep a record of your symptoms.
Using a period tracking app: Emily’s story
Emily, 35, has found a period tracking app has helped her. She says: “I’ve found that through using the app, I now pay more attention to how I feel at different stages of the month. I can track if I feel particularly low, tired or bloated for example, so I can see patterns in my cycle. The app is also a good way of noticing irregularities, such as if your period is heavier than normal. It's a really easy way to keep track as my phone is always with me!"
When to see a doctor for heavy or painful periods
If heavy or painful periods are having a negative impact on your life, it’s always worth seeking help from your GP. You should also see your GP as soon as possible if there’s been a change to your periods. For instance, if they’ve suddenly become painful or much heavier than before. This could be a sign of an underlying problem. If you’ve kept a record of your periods using a diary or smartphone app, this can be really useful to share with your GP.
There are many treatment options your GP may be able to offer you for both painful and heavy periods. They can also refer you to a gynaecologist or other specialist if needed. So, although there are lots of things you can do yourself to cope with painful and heavy periods, it’s also important to know that help is at hand if you need it.