Menstrual pains: a classically feminine malady


The famous painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir once said: “The pain passes, the beauty remains”. Although he referred to his difficulty in painting because of his health problems, you will agree that this statement could apply to women … For those who are struggling with menstrual pain, it is true that the pain eventually, but only to come back the next month!

The medical term for severe menstrual pain is “dysmenorrhea”. This is a condition frequently encountered by many girls and women during their menstrual period. It affects more than 50% of them, which is considerable. Although generally mild to moderate most of the time, it can be severe for some, which results in a decrease in the quality of life and a change in daily activities (forced rest, absenteeism, etc.).

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce the intensity of menstrual pain, as well as their impacts.


Dysmenorrhea (also known as algomenorrhoea) is low abdominal (lower belly) or lumbar (lower back) pain that occurs during the first days of menstruation. It afflicts mostly women in their twenties and may decrease with age and childbirth.

Other symptoms may also accompany pain, such as:

  • headaches;
  • tiredness or weakness
  • nausea;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea.

Primary dysmenorrhea is the most common. It is associated with the secretion of substances, called prostaglandins, by the body at the time of menstruation. The latter cause uterine contractions and facilitate the expulsion of blood from the uterus; it is these uterine contractions that cause the pain. More rarely, the pains can be caused by a disease; it is then secondary dysmenorrhea. It appears later, usually in women who had no previous dysmenorrhea problems. It can result, for example, from an anatomical abnormality of the uterus, endometritis (inflammation of the endometrium), a cyst, etc. This type of dysmenorrhea normally requires close medical follow-up.


Several measures can be tried during the appearance of painful periods. Act at the onset of symptoms so that the treatment is more effective.

Here are some that can help you:

  • the application of heat (hot-water bottle) in the abdomen or hot bath;
  • a belly massage;
  • relaxation techniques (meditation, yoga, etc.);
  • physical activity and stretching;
  • rest and restful sleep.


Some over-the-counter medications can help. The first choice is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen, which reduces the formation of prostaglandins that cause pain. Such drugs may also be prescribed by the doctor. Other over-the-counter pain medications may be helpful. Since these medications may not be suitable for you, it is advisable to always consult your pharmacist before choosing a product.

To be effective, treatment should be started as early as possible, usually within 24 hours before menstruation, and continued until about the third day of menstruation. NSAIDs should be taken on a regular basis rather than as needed to maintain a low level of prostaglandins. To minimize irritation to the stomach, NSAIDs should be taken with milk or with food. 

Regular use of a hormonal contraceptive is also effective in some cases in reducing menstrual pain. It suppresses ovulation and, as a result, fewer prostaglandins are produced, thus causing less abdominal cramps. Talk to your doctor.


You should consult your doctor if:

  • you are not relieved with over-the-counter pain medications, including NSAIDs;
  • pains appear in adulthood or worsen;
  • the pain persists several days before and after the period;
  • you have the following symptoms: fever, thick, yellowish vaginal discharge, bleeding between periods, and abnormally heavy menstruation.

Menstruation is part of a woman’s normal life. However, the pain that is sometimes associated with it does not have to be part of the picture. Several options are at your fingertips to limit or stop them and allow you to enjoy life, no matter the date on the calendar. It’s up to you to take control so your rules do not become a source of apprehension and you can see life in color every day of the month.

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