Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

Dysmenorrhoea is another term for period pains or cramps. The severity of your pain can greatly vary from person to person. Read on for more information about possible causes and management of the condition.

What is dysmenorrhoea?

Dysmenorrhoea refers to period pain – that uncomfortable, cramping feeling you get during your period. The type of pain can range from mild (discomfort) to severe (unable to stand). 

There are two key types of dysmenorrhoea: primary and secondary. 

Primary dysmenorrhoea

With this type of period pain, you’re likely to experience symptoms after your very first period. There’s usually no underlying problem causing the pain. This type of period pain is more common in your teenage years and 20s. 

Secondary dysmenorrhoea 

This secondary type of period pain often happens in your 30s and 40s. Unlike primary period pain, it’s caused by an underlying problem within the pelvis or womb. The issue may be one of many conditions, like fibroids, endometriosis or ovarian cysts. If you’re worried about this, speak to a doctor who can help to investigate the cause.

What are the symptoms of dysmenorrhoea?

The main symptoms of dysmenorrhoea are period cramps. The pain is usually felt in your lower tummy. The pain could range from uncomfortable, dull, sharp and stabbing. 

You might feel other symptoms alongside the cramps, including:

  • Back pain

  • Leg pain

  • Tiredness

  • Headaches

  • Diarrhoea

  • Feeling sick 

  • Bloating

  • Feeling emotional

These symptoms might happen the week before your period as well as the days you’re bleeding. They may last varying lengths of time and can change from month to month.

What are the symptoms of secondary dysmenorrhoea?

If you have secondary dysmenorrhoea, you might have additional symptoms that aren’t seen in primary dysmenorrhoea, like:

  • High temperature 

  • Pain during sex 

  • Bleeding from your vagina after sex 

  • Bleeding from your vagina between periods 

  • Unusual vaginal discharge

How common is dysmenorrhoea?

Period pain is very common. Roughly 20% of women have dysmenorrhoea severe enough to impact daily activities.

What causes dysmenorrhoea?

Period pains don’t always have a proven cause – more research is needed here. However, the womb lining shedding during bleeding may play a role. 

During your period, you produce prostaglandins – a group of lipids that are involved in repairing tissue damage. They also control processes like blood flow and blood clots, and as a result can cause pain. 

How is dysmenorrhoea diagnosed?

Dysmenorrhoea is usually diagnosed by your doctor through asking simple questions about your symptoms. 

For them to diagnose either primary or secondary period pains, your tummy will be examined to look for any underlying problems and, in some cases you might be recommended to have an internal examination too. 

If a doctor suspects secondary dysmenorrhoea, you may have additional pelvic exams, like an internal and external ultrasound, or MRI. 

How is dysmenorrhoea treated?

Treatment for period pain will be different depending on whether you have primary or secondary dysmenorrhoea. 

Treatment for primary dysmenorrhoea includes:

  • Heat – many people use hot water bottles to ease pain

  • Gentle exercise 

  • Painkillers – your pharmacist would be able to help with the best ones for you 

Some contraceptives can also help to ease pain and regulate periods.

Treatment for secondary dysmenorrhoea involves treating the underlying problem, whether that’s endometriosis, fibroids, ovarian cysts or something else.

When should I speak to a doctor?

If you’re suffering from period pain and it’s affecting your daily activities, speak to a doctor and arrange an appointment. Some pain during your period is normal but severe pain isn’t.

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms. They’ll make an individual assessment, recommend a treatment or refer you to a specialist if needed.


Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi

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