Period pain: self-care

General Information

Period pain can be caused by a build-up of substances called prostaglandins, which are produced by the uterus (womb), leading to cramping pain in your lower abdomen and stomach. Pain can occur just before menstrual bleeding, but usually goes away within two days of your period starting. Period pain is also called dysmenorrhoea.

If the period pain lasts longer than a few days, or pain occurs for the first time in women in their 30s and 40s, it could have a more serious cause and you should see a doctor.

Women are usually affected by period pain in their late teens and early 20s. The severity of period pain depends on the age when your periods first started, if your periods are prolonged, if your bleeding is heavy and if you smoke.

Symptoms associated with period pain include:

  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea
  • constipation
  • backache
  • tiredness
  • headaches
  • fainting
  • bloating
  • leg pain
  • breast tenderness or pain

See Your Pharmacist or Medical Professional

  • if pain continues beyond the first two days of your period, or gets worse after starting
  • if your pain is severe or is getting worse with each period
  • if you have dull, spreading pain rather than cramping
  • if pharmacy medicines no longer control your pain
  • if your menstrual bleeding has become heavier
  • if you have a fever and feel tired
  • if you have abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding
  • if you have pain at other times, such as before or after your period, or pain with a late period
  • if you use an intrauterine device (IUD) for contraception
  • if you take any other medicines or have any other medical conditions
  • if you are dehydrated through playing sport or have diarrhoea
  • if you have allergies to any medicines
  • if you have vaginal bleeding and are post-menopausal

Treatment Tips

  • place a hot water bottle over clothing on your abdomen to relieve pain
  • some medicines are more effective because they treat the cause of period pain (see Treatment Options below or ask your pharmacist for advice)
  • some period pain medicines are not suitable for everyone; check with your pharmacist

Treatment Options

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. ibuprofen (packets of 24 or fewer) (Nurofen, Advil, Tri-Profen)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. diclofenac 12.5 mg (Voltaren Rapid 12.5), ibuprofen (larger pack sizes) (Nurofen, Advil, Panafen IB), mefenamic acid (Ponstan), naproxen (Aleve, Naprogesic)

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. diclofenac 25 mg (packets of 30 or fewer) (Voltaren Rapid 25, Viclofen)

  • NSAIDs stop your body from making prostaglandins, which cause period pain
  • some NSAIDs may work better for you, so try different types over two to three cycles to find the best one
  • take NSAIDs when you first notice period pain and continue taking them until pain disappears, or for about two days
  • if you usually experience pain, start NSAIDs just before your period is due
  • all NSAIDS are recommended to be taken with food
  • aspirin and NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone. Children under 12 years old must not take aspirin because it can cause Reye’s syndrome, a serious condition. It should also be avoided by adolescents under 16 years old who have a viral illness, e.g. chicken pox or influenza
  • check with your pharmacist before taking aspirin or NSAIDs if you:
    • have a history of stomach problems, such as ulcers or indigestion
    • have asthma (some people with asthma find their condition is made worse by these types of medicines)
    • have kidney problems or a heart condition
    • have bleeding or bruising problems
    • take other medications
    • have an allergy to aspirin or NSAIDs
    • are breastfeeding
    • are dehydrated
    • are due to have any type of surgery within the next couple of days
  • sometimes aspirin and NSAIDs can cause side effects. If you develop indigestion, shortness of breath or unusual or increased bleeding or bruising, stop taking them and talk to your pharmacist

Other pain relievers (analgesics)

[GENERAL SALE]
e.g. paracetamol tablets or capsules (packets of 24 or fewer) (Panadol, Panadol Rapid)

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. paracetamol (larger pack sizes) (Panadol, Panadol Rapid, Panamax)

  • paracetamol is a good option if you cannot take NSAIDs or if you experience stomach upset with period pain
  • some women may get relief from paracetamol, however, it does not treat the cause of the pain (as NSAIDs do)
  • paracetamol is a safe choice for most people but it is important not to take more than recommended
  • paracetamol is an ingredient in many cold and flu remedies so be careful not to double dose. The maximum daily dose for an adult is 4 g (4000 mg), and no more than 1 g (1000 mg) every four hours

Combination analgesics

Ibuprofen + codeine

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Nurofen Plus, Panafen Plus (pack size depends on States)

Paracetamol + codeine

[PHARMACY ONLY]
e.g. Codalgin, Panadeine, Codapane, Mersyndol DayStrength (pack size depends on States)

Paracetamol + codeine + doxylamine

[PHARMACIST ONLY]
e.g. Mersyndol

  • these products contain two or more ingredients that relieve pain in different ways
  • codeine reduces your perception of pain by blocking pain signals from nerves in your body
  • try single-ingredient products first; if these do not give adequate pain relief, then try a combination product
  • see the warnings above relating to individual ingredients
  • products containing codeine may cause constipation
  • doxylamine (contained in Mersyndol) is sedating, so do not drive or operate machinery while taking it. It may be helpful if the pain is particularly severe, but it is not suitable for people with certain medical conditions, so talk to your pharmacist first

More Information

Availability of medicines

  • GENERAL SALE available through pharmacies and possibly other retail outlets.
  • PHARMACY ONLY available for sale through pharmacies only.
  • PHARMACIST ONLY may only be sold by a pharmacist.

Search myDr for Consumer Medicine Information

Last Reviewed: 6 May 2009
myDr

Online doctor

Need health advice right now?See an Australian-registered doctor on your phone
myDr

myDr

myDr provides comprehensive Australian health and medical information, images and tools covering symptoms, diseases, tests, medicines and treatments, and nutrition and fitness.