What are period pains?

Period pains are pains in the abdominal (belly) and pelvic areas that are experienced by a woman as a result of her menstrual period. Period pains are not the same as the discomfort felt during premenstrual syndrome (PMS), although the symptoms of both disorders can sometimes be experienced as a continual process. Many women suffer from both PMS and menstrual cramps.

Menstrual cramps can range from mild to quite severe. Mild menstrual cramps may be barely noticeable and of short duration – sometimes felt just as a sense of light heaviness in the belly. Severe menstrual cramps can be so painful that they interfere with a woman’s regular activities for several days.

Lots of girls experience cramps before or during their periods. Cramps are caused by prostaglandins (say: pross-tuh-glan-dunz), chemicals a girl’s body produces to make the muscles of the uterus contract. The contracting muscles help push the blood out through a girl’s vagina during her period.

You probably know periods usually come once a month. Sometimes, younger girls aren’t that regular, so they may skip a month. But as a girl’s periods get more regular, cramps are more likely.

Menstrual cramps are the leading cause of absenteeism in women younger than 30 years. Although over half of women who have menstrual periods experience some discomfort, 10% are temporarily disabled by symptoms.

The following circumstances may make a woman more likely to experience menstrual cramps:

  • She started her first period at an early age (younger than 11 years).
  • Her menstrual periods last 5 days or longer.
  • She is overweight or obese.
  • She smokes cigarettes or uses alcohol.
  • She has never been pregnant.

How common are menstrual cramps?

Menstrual pain of some degree affect more than an estimated 50% of women, and among these, up to 15% would describe their menstrual cramps as severe. Surveys of adolescent girls show that over 90% of girls report having period pains.

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