Simona Mockute would often find herself bedridden by her period pains, which she’d suffered with from the age of 11. The 24-year-old would also experience intense headaches.
She spent years, unsuccessfully, trying different methods to ease the pain. Painkillers such as ibuprofen or paracetamol were ineffective.
The model and interior designer said: “The pain was so intense, it was a throbbing or cramping pain in my lower abdomen. The pain would radiate to my lower back and thighs.
“I couldn’t go to school, university or work for the first couple of days of my period, which each month is quite disruptive.
“I’d be crying from the pain. I could’t stand up or breath normally. It was horrible and it really affected my quality of life.”
Simona said the condition affected her mental health. “I felt angry a lot of the time, probably because I was so frustrated with my circumstances. I felt like a prisoner in my own body and mind.”
Period pain occurs when the muscular wall of the womb contracts during your period to encourage the uterus lining to shed away as part of your monthly cycle.
This compresses the blood vessels lining the womb, which temporarily cuts off its blood supply – and hence oxygen supply. Chemicals that trigger pain are then released, along with hormone-like prostaglandins. These encourage the womb muscles to contract more, further increasing the level of pain.
“Whenever I’ve been to GPs about it, I’ve been told the pain is ‘normal’ and part and parcel of being a woman,” said Simona, who is originally from Lithuania and living in south west London.
Menstrual pain can sometimes be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
But conditions aside, it’s not known why some women experience more period pain than others. It may be that some women have a build-up of prostaglandins, which means they experience stronger contractions.
For reasons not entirely clear, menstrual pain is most common among young women in their teens and twenties; it usually moderates with age and often improves after giving birth.
The Mayo Clinic suggests a woman is at risk of menstrual cramps if she started puberty early, at age 11 or younger, and has irregular periods – as in Simona’s case. Having irregular bleeding, a family history of period pains and smoking are also factors, it said.
Period pain caused by underlying conditions
Less commonly, period pain can be caused by an underlying medical condition.
Period pain linked to an underlying condition tends to affect older women, mostly those aged 30 to 45.
According to the NHS, these include:
- Endometriosis – where cells that normally line the womb start to grow in other places, such as in the fallopian tubes and ovaries; these cells can cause intense pain when they shed and fall away
- Fibroids – non-cancerous tumours that can grow in the womb and can make your periods heavy and painful
- Pelvic inflammatory disease – where your womb, fallopian tubes and ovaries become infected with bacteria, causing them to become severely inflamed
- Adenomyosis – where the tissue that normally lines the womb starts to grow within the muscular womb wall, making your periods particularly painful
Hormonal birth control can reduce the severity of menstrual cramps but Simona says this method has not eased her agony.
“I would just curl up with a hot water bottle, or have a hot bath to try to get some relief,” she said. “The advice is to exercise but it can be impossible when you are in so much pain.”
Last year, she tried cannabidiol (CBD) oil – the non-psychoactive component of cannabis – and says she hardly suffers any period pain anymore.
Studies have suggested that CBD oil might help ease chronic pain in part by reducing inflammation. However, there’s limited research when it comes to how effective it is specifically for period cramps.
“I saw the effects in about two months, and my cycle has become more regular now.
“If I forget to take it, then the pain comes on so I feel sure it’s the CBD.
“It’s a huge relief to not have to have my life stop for a couple of days a month. I can go to work, go shopping and do normal things at the start of my period for the first time ever.”
What else can help menstrual pain?
Besides getting enough sleep and rest, other lifestyle and home remedies that may help, according to The Mayo Clinic, include:
- Exercise regularly – physical activity, including sex, helps ease menstrual cramps for some women.
- Use heat – soaking in a hot bath or using a heating pad, hot water bottle or heat patch on your lower abdomen might ease menstrual cramps.
- Try dietary supplements – a number of studies have indicated that vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamin), vitamin B-6 and magnesium supplements might reduce menstrual cramps.
- Reduce stress – psychological stress might increase your risk of menstrual cramps and their severity.