Everybody who gets a period will experience it differently. Some people live blissfully symptom-free, while others might experience cramping so severe it leaves them laid up in bed, with only blankets and a heating pad for comfort. While it’s common for most people who menstruate to experience some degree of pain or emotional difficulty related to the onset of their periods, others might find their symptoms completely debilitating—either severe menstrual cramps or secondary dysmenorrhea (pain caused by an underlying condition).
Most period symptoms, like period cramps, are caused by prostaglandins: a hormone-like compound in bodies used to signal to uteruses that it’s time to shed. However, those who regularly deal with more period pain than the average person might experience severe period symptoms that require medical intervention.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms listed below and they are disrupting your life and overall wellbeing, you shouldn’t ignore them or brush them off as a necessary evil. More often than not, these symptoms are linked to other underlying health issues and can even require medical attention. Read on to see if you can relate to any of these and to find out what can be done.
Extremely Heavy Bleeding
For super heavy periods, you may find yourself needing to change your pad or tampon every 2-3 hours. This, on its own, is nothing to be concerned about (and our period underwear provides excellent backup protection!). However, if you can’t even get through an hour without bleeding through your pad or tampon, this is more than just a heavy period. It could be an indication of anemia or other health issues. We recommend consulting a doctor to learn more about why this is happening to you.
Sometimes, the anticoagulants (properties that cause the rate you bleed to slow down) in your body can’t keep up with your flow. This can cause the occasional thick clot of blood to appear during your menstrual cycle. This is completely harmless–your uterine lining is shedding after all. That said, if you’re experiencing blood clots bigger than the size of a quarter, it could be a sign of uterine fibroids or hereditary disorders like von Willebrand disease.
Large blood clots can also be caused by a miscarriage or complications with a IUD. Either way, if this is happening to you, you need to speak to your doctor about it.
Unbearable Abdominal Cramping or Back Pain
Almost everyone experiences cramping during their cycle, but usually these menstrual cramps can be treated with regular pain meds like ibuprofen or Midol and won’t disrupt your everyday life. However, if your period cramps are causing you to miss school or work regularly and nothing seems to relieve your pain, it might be an indicator of endometriosis and you should consult your doctor ASAP.
Endometriosis is a painful disorder where tissue that normally grows inside your uterus grows outside of it. It typically affects around two to 10 percent of uterus-having people. Even if you aren’t dealing with this disorder, a doctor can prescribe something more serious to alleviate severe period pain and help you resume your everyday activities without being bedridden.
Another cause of severe pain during your period could be your prostaglandins causing your uterus to contract too forcefully, which cuts off the oxygen supply to the surrounding muscles. This explains why you’re experiencing lower back pain during your cycle. Once again, if your lower back pain is so severe that it disrupts your life, it could be an indicator of endometriosis or uterine fibroids. If this sounds like you, consider giving your doctor a ring or heading to a walk-in clinic.
Throwing Up or Severe Headaches and Migraines
Experiencing period nausea and headaches during your menstrual cycle is considered a “normal” side effect of your period. Despite this, if you’re finding yourself glued to the toilet on your period, can’t keep food down, or are experiencing menstrual migraines so severe that nothing can relieve them, we recommend consulting your family physician. While this isn’t necessarily an indicator of an underlying disorder or disease, severe period symptoms such as constant vomiting on your period are something that can best be relieved with the help of a medical professional.
Never-Ending Period and Spotting
Extended periods, known as menorrhagia, are usually a result of a hormonal imbalance. However, this can also be related to blood clotting disorders, pelvic inflammatory disease, fibroids, cysts, and certain types of birth control. You should consult a doctor to figure out what the underlying cause is and how it can be treated.
Spotting is light bleeding between your regular menstrual cycles, and it’s very common, especially if you’re on low-dose birth control.
However, ongoing spotting can be an indicator of several health problems such as uterine or cervical polyps and, in rare cases, cervical cancer. Spotting can also be a sign of pregnancy. We don’t mean to scare you–typically, spotting is most likely nothing to worry about, but it’s still good to bring it up with your doctor if it’s happening regularly. This will help you understand exactly why the spotting is happening and give you the opportunity to rule out any underlying health issues.
If you’re experiencing uncontrollable, severe mood swings right before or during your menstrual cycle, it might not be plain old PMS. If you find your mood swings are disrupting your day-to-day or ruining relationships with those around you, it could be a disorder known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). To learn more about PMDD symptoms, check out the blog post we wrote about it.
Painful Bowel Movements
This one is pretty rare, but endometriosis can also cause painful bowel movements, as well as extreme constipation or diarrhea. Overall, this is a pretty unusual symptom, but about 15% of people with endometriosis suffer with bowel-related issues related to the disease.
Most mild period side effects are caused by those prostaglandins we keep talking about. While they can be unpleasant and annoying to keep dealing with, they’re considered normal symptoms of your monthly cycle. The period symptoms we’ve described above are severe symptoms and not a normal or common part of menstruation, so if you’re dealing with anything similar to what we’ve talked about, it might be time to reach out to a doctor. Doing so will get you one step closer to alleviating the issue, so what’re you waiting for?
Is Period Pain a Reason to Miss School?
In short–absolutely. Did you know that in South Korea, there's actually a menstrual leave? Folks are permitted to take one day off a month due to painful periods. Legitimate period pain is a valid reason to call in sick to school, work, or anywhere else. Dysmenorrhea is a medical condition that deserves to be taken seriously. Furthermore, you're not alone. Painful periods cause over 20% of people worldwide to skip class.
When you're just getting used to having your period, it can be difficult to deal with the surprises that it brings every month. If your period is rendering you immobile or just has you feeling like not your best self, don't hesitate to call in sick, speak to a parent or guardian, or even reach out to a doctor. Often severe period pain can be a sign of something else going on in your body, so it's always better to be safe than sorry.
Disclaimer: The blog writers at Kt by Knix are not medical professionals, and give this advice based on their own research and experience. If you have further questions or concerns, speak to a trusted medical professional.