Every month I have to miss school and sports practices because I have such bad period cramps. Is that normal? Is there anything I can do?
Great question. Dealing with painful period cramps (also called menstrual cramps) is a huge pain-in-the-uterus, especially if it’s making you miss out on school and sports! Some discomfort during your period is common—especially when you’re a teen and your menstrual cycle isn’t so consistent yet. However, debilitating period cramps that keep you from living your life are NOT normal. It’s time for you to talk to a health care provider.
First, let’s talk about why people get menstrual cramps in the first place.
During your period, hormone-like substances called prostaglandins make your uterus (which is a muscle) contract. This makes the uterine lining (also called the endometrium) shed, in the form of menstrual blood. This process is what you’re feeling when you get period cramps.
Painful periods actually have a medical term: dysmenorrhea.
There are a few things you can try to ease the pain. Old-school methods like heating pads and warm baths can help relax your muscles and mind. Exercising—even if it’s just a walk around the block—and eating healthily also help. You can also try over-the-counter NSAID pain medication (like Advil, Motrin, Midol or Aleve). These are prostaglandin inhibitors, which means that they fight the cause of the cramps AND soothe the pain.
It sounds like your period pain goes beyond the normal discomfort, though.
You shouldn’t have to miss school, sports or other activities because of your period. Make an appointment with your health care provider to talk about what you’re going through. Be upfront about the pain and how it’s affecting your life.
Sometimes, super painful periods are just that—super painful periods. Other times, they can be a sign of a medical condition, like endometriosis. The sooner you and your health care provider figure out what’s going on, the sooner you can say goodbye to your monstrous menstrual cramps!
Whether or not there’s a specific reason for your painful periods, your health care provider can help you manage the pain. They may recommend trying hormonal birth control (like the pill, implant, shot, hormonal IUD, patch or ring), which can help ease menstrual cramps. They may also prescribe a stronger NSAID than what you can find over the counter.
Consider tracking your period cramps.
Do they come before, after and/or during your period? How many days does the cramping last? Which days are worst? Keep notes on your phone or in a journal, or use a period tracking app that lets you enter this kind of information. This way, you can begin to predict when you’ll feel your worst, and can hopefully plan around that so your life isn’t disrupted as much. This info will also be super useful to your health care provider, who can use it to figure out which medications will be most useful and when to take them.
Unfortunately, periods tend to be a taboo topic.
Many young people grow up without any real education or open conversations about them. Because of this, they often suffer from their period-related agony in silence, thinking that it’s just part of growing up. It’s great that you’re speaking up and asking for help! That can feel strange or scary, but learning to advocate for yourself and asking for help when you need it is an important part of getting older.
If you’re 10-22 years old and live near NYC, you can call (212) 423-3000 to make an appointment for confidential, comprehensive health care—including help with painful periods—at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. No immigration restrictions, no insurance needed.
A version of this post was originally published in August, 2016.