Jennifer Ashton, M.D., Ob-Gyn with Christine Larson WebMD Feature by “The Body Scoop for Girls”
Even in normal periods, your monthly cycle can affect a lot more than your uterus and vagina. Some symptoms are easy to explain. Cramps, for instance, happen because your uterus contracts when it sheds its lining (called the endometrium)—similar to the way it contracts during labor. No wonder it hurts. It’s like giving birth!
Normal or Not?
Normal Menstrual Symptoms
Mild cramps or aches for a day or two
Being a little tired, grouchy, or sad
Being a little less interested in your favorite activities
Not Normal: See a Doctor
Extreme changes in your mood or behavior
A headache you’d call “the worst headache of your life”
Inability to eat or hold down food or drink
A temperature over 101°F
Lots of nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
Abdominal pain that ibuprofen doesn’t help
Pain when you pee
As for all those other symptoms, researchers don’t have the ultimate answer. They do think that fluctuating hormone levels (specifically, estrogen and progesterone) and another compound called prostaglandin play a role in many types of menstrual misery—from zits to headaches to making your family wish you’d move out. Sometimes these symptoms get bad enough to qualify officially as PMS, but usually they simply qualify as “severe” or “painful” periods. And there’s a lot you can do for them.
Your best bet is to see a doctor and try a range of treatments until you figure out what works best for your body.
Severe periods can occur every single month or just once in a while. They usually start within six to twelve months after your first period and may get gradually worse as the months go by, as they did with my patient Lori. The pain usually starts the day before your period comes or else a day or two after. My patients often describe the pain as coming in waves, affecting their lower abdomen or pelvis. Sometimes it radiates down their lower back or upper thighs. Some people also experience bad headaches.
None of these symptoms are fun. Fortunately, there’s a lot you can do.