When It's More Than Period Pain
Medically Reviewed by Barb DePree, MD, NCMP,MMM
Director of the Women's Midlife Services at Holland Hospital
Period cramps can be annoying, but if your period pain goes beyond a monthly annoyance and disrupts your life, there may be something else going on.
During a recent HealthyWomen survey, a shocking 42 percent of women diagnosed with endometriosis, a painful gynecologic disorder that affects 1 in 10 women and is often misdiagnosed, were told by their health care professionals that their pain was simply "part of being a woman.”
We want to remind women that crippling pain is not part of being a woman and should not be ignored.
If you're unsure how to measure your period pain level, here are some signs that the pain you're experiencing is more than "normal" period pain and you need to see your health care provider.
Meds don't do the trick
For many women, popping some over-the-counter acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen offers relief. But period cramps may not be normal if OTC meds aren't enough.
Cramps get in the way of living your daily life
If you must put your life on hold every month during your period, it's time to speak to your health care provider. Period pain should not greatly interfere with your social, work or family life.
You have low-grade, constant pain
Pain that is uncomfortable but not sharp or stabbing that occurs when you're arenot on your period could be a sign of pelvic inflammatory disease, or PID. It's a bacterial infection usually spread by sex. If you have PID, your periods may be heavier or longer. Your health care provider can test and treat you for this curable condition.
Your cramps last more than two to three days
Two to three days of menstrual discomfort is normal, but if you regularly have bad period cramps during your entire period, you should see your health care provider.
You have sharp pain on your side
Intense pain on your side may be the sign of an ovarian torsion, which happens when an ovary becomes twisted. One cause is an ovarian cyst, according to the Mayo Clinic. An ovarian torsion could lead to loss of function in that ovary. So, it's best to head to the emergency room. You'll likely get some scans and may need minimally invasive surgery to untwist it.
You have some worrisome symptoms along with your cramps
Irregular cycles, pain during sex, spotting between cycles, heavy bleeding, trouble getting pregnant, cramps accompanied by diarrhea or nausea in addition to intense pelvic pain should all warrant a trip to your health care provider.
You're in such pain that you're thinking of going to the hospital
Normal cramps shouldn't be severe enough to go to the emergency room. Head there, though, if the pain is severely intense. It's better to get checked out than to miss something that may be happening with your health.