We Need to Take Period Pain Seriously, Here’s Why

If you ask anyone who menstruates whether dysmenorrhoea (period pain) has ever impacted their daily life, the answer will probably be a resounding yes. According to a 2016 study, between 70% and 90% of Australians who menstruate have also experienced menstrual cramping. 

With a figure so big, it might be easy to dismiss period pain as not such a big deal — after all, how could a condition that impacts so many people, and gets so little air time, be serious? The reality is, dysmenorrhoea is a very real pain condition that’s deserving of not only our time but also compassion for those going through it every month. Here’s why. 

Period Pain Is Real Pain

There’s a tendency for people to just “push through” period pain every month and get on with it (work, school, social commitments, life). The logic makes sense, after all, do you really want to put your life on hold for one week of every single month? I certainly don’t. But to just push through and not give ourselves the space to rest, and yes, sulk, isn’t really helping us either. 

In case you need some extra validation, here it is: John Guillebaud, professor of reproductive health at University College London, told Quartz in 2016 that cramping pain is “almost as bad as having a heart attack”. Yes — a heart attack. So, while I’m personally not looking to a man named John to explain that period pain is, in fact, real pain, it’s a pretty powerful comparison. When we consider that as many as 90% of people who menstruate have also experienced period pain (and 34% experience period pain every single month), it’s worth taking seriously. 

In the same Australian study mentioned above, it was shown that while period pain is common, it’s rare that people would seek medical advice, with only 34% seeing their doctor to discuss pain management options. It was also noted that people who experienced moderate or severe pain were more likely to see their GP, which isn’t surprising.

If you experience period pain every month and can’t get on top of it, we recommend you make an appointment with your GP  or chat with the pharmacist at your local chemist to learn about your pain management options.

Period Pain Can Impact Productivity, in a Big Way

It’s hard to get anything done when you’re in pain, and for anyone who’s ever kept a heat pack or hot water bottle in their work drawers to pull out and discretely cuddle under their clothes to get through a particularly painful period, you get it. And you’re not alone. 

According to a study published in the British Medical Journal in 2019, approximately 13.8% of the 32,748 participants who also experience period pain, recorded a loss in productivity.

We know there’s a disparity between varying economic statuses and access to period products, but when it comes to period pain and its impacts, a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health showed it has a significant impact across the board. 

This article looked at 38 studies that collectively involved 21,573 school- and university-aged students. It found the percentage of the population impacted by period pain was similar to the stats I spouted above, except that 20% of students also reported absence from school or university due to dysmenorrhoea — and 40% said their performance or concentration was negatively affected during their periods, too. 

Getting promotions, particularly as a woman, can be difficult and we know that simply being in the room can play a huge part in career progression and learning the skills to move up. Something that period pain interferes with for so many. All that’s to say, if you’re a manager or person in a position of power, please remember that period pain is a real pain, and showing compassion and understanding for people in the workplace, when they need to work from home or take the day off, can go a really long way.  

Period Pain Can Be Indicative of a Bigger Issue

There are two types of period pain: primary dysmenorrhoea and secondary dysmenorrhoea. The former is what some might call “regular” period pain, which means it usually lasts for a couple of days at the beginning of your period. This type of period pain is caused by an increase in the chemicals called prostaglandins, which are responsible for causing the muscles and blood vessels in the uterus to contract during menstruation. 

On the other hand, secondary dysmenorrhoea is caused by conditions associated with the abdomen and reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, fibroids, adenomyosis, Crohn’s disease, and urinary disorders. Unlike primary dysmenorrhoea, secondary period pain will generally start earlier (sometimes before the period begins), get worse as the period progresses, and then hang around after your period ends. 

Just because you’re experiencing period pain, it doesn’t mean there’s necessarily any reason to be concerned. But getting on top of your pain management routine (like finding the right activities or pain relief to ease your symptoms) is key. The best plan of attack is to book in to see your GP and speak with a pharmacist to find out all your options and figure out whether there’s more going on.