Great question! Getting your period can cause mild cramps on the first day or two, but it shouldn’t cause you to stay home from school, work, or social events. Dysmenorrhea (pronounced: dis–men–o–ree–a) is a medical term for difficult or painful periods. There are two types of dysmenorrhea; primary and secondary. The most common type is primary dysmenorrhea, cramping that occurs in the lower abdomen (belly), can start 1-2 days before your period and last 2-4 days. Girls may also experience lower back pain, nausea, vomiting, loose bowel movements/diarrhea, and/or lightheadedness. Primary dysmenorrhea usually gets better with over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) medications such as Ibuprofen or naproxen. If possible, you should begin taking NSAIDs 1-2 days before your period starts to help relieve discomfort. You may also find it helpful to track your periods – knowing when your pain is at its worst can be helpful, and finally, introducing a heating pad may also provide additional relief.
If the discomfort persists or becomes stronger, you may have secondary dysmenorrhea. Secondary dysmenorrhea can be caused by a medical condition known as endometriosis, which occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside of its normal location. This can cause pain before and/or during a girl’s menstrual cycle. It is important that you schedule an appointment with your primary care provider (PCP) and share your symptoms, their intensity, and the things you have tried to relieve your symptoms. Your PCP may prescribe birth control pills to lessen the flow. If you still have pain, check in with your PCP about seeing a gynecologist to consider whether you might have endometriosis.