Can period pain get worse with age?



Qualified Nutritionist (BSc, MSc, RNutr)
@EmmaThornton
Ask Emma


15 June 2018

Talking period pain

As I am sure you are aware, periods vary considerably from one woman to the next, and from one cycle to the next too. Some have heavier flows than others, some have more severe pain than others and whilst some experience discomfort in the days leading up to the start of their period, others will only experience period pain when they start bleeding.

Pain during menstruation occurs when tissues lining the inside of the uterus (womb) start to shed in preparation for the monthly bleed. As they do so the blood supply (and therefore oxygen) to the womb is restricted and so without this the tissues in the womb release chemicals that trigger pain. 

For more information on menstrual cramps just have a look at our symptoms page here.

Worsening period pain

Unfortunately it is possible for period pain to worsen with age, especially for women in their 30s and 40s. However, if this happens to you there must be a reason for it, perhaps an underlying condition or a new issue that’s cropped up in your life like stress. 

The worsening pain can also be accompanied by other symptoms such as irregular periods, bleeding between periods, pain during sex and foul-smelling vaginal discharge. 

If you are worried about increasing period pain, or any of these other symptoms, your first step should be to visit your doctor. There you can discuss what’s going on and you’ll receive expert advice and treatment if necessary.

In the meantime though, I’ve had a look at a few different reasons why period pain may suddenly worsen with age.

Stress

Whether it’s a prominent issue or a fleeting problem in your life, stress is experienced by all of us. Amongst other things, work, family and money worries can all take their toll. 

As I discussed in my blog on ‘stressful periods’, this can affect the menstrual cycle, disrupting the length of your regular cycle and making symptoms such as mood swings more severe as well.1 Also, although there is still some more research to be done on the topic, stress could make period pain more severe too.

This could be psychological in that people who are stressed occasionally have an altered perception of pain. However, when the body is in a state of stress it sometimes loses the ability to regulate its inflammatory response which could also, in turn, intensify period pain.2  What’s more, stress may increase the amount of inflammatory chemicals within the body thus giving another reason as to why cramp may suddenly become worse.

Stress-managing tips:

If your life is feeling particularly stressful at the moment and you think it might be influencing the severity of your period symptoms, here are a few things you can do:

  • Breathing techniques –  taking a little time out of your day to do gentle breathing exercises will help you to relax and will give your mind something else to focus on other than stress
  • Try a herbal remedy – there a number of herbal remedies that can be used to help relieve mild stress and anxiety. AvenaCalm for example, is made from the green leafy parts of the Avena Sativa plant and helps to soothe symptoms of emotional distress
  • Talk – one of the worst things you can do if you’re feeling stressed is keep the problem to yourself. So, why not offload some of your concerns to someone else, perhaps a friend, a colleague or a family member, in an attempt to relieve some of your stress?
  • Try new things – often the problem of stress is magnified because we are so focused on it. A good way to avoid this is to turn your attention to something else instead like a new activity or an old hobby.

Weight gain

As we age it is common for our weight to fluctuate depending on our lifestyle, our diet and other health conditions. If we do put on a significant amount of weight with age it puts the body under increasing pressure which could, in turn, affect the menstrual cycle. 

When accompanied by weight gain, a change in your usual period symptoms such as increased pain could be down to oestrogen which, because it is stored and released by fat cells, can become dominant. The dominance of oestrogen is often characterised by heavy, painful and more frequent periods, as well as other symptoms such as painful breasts, bloating, irritability and mood swings. 

In my blog ‘Could your weight be affecting your periods?’ you can find more information on this topic as I discuss how being over and underweight can affect the menstrual cycle. 

Weight-managing tips:

  • A little exercise – when it comes to exercising to lose weight make sure you don’t do too much too quickly. Build up your stamina slowly with gentle exercises like walking and swimming and when you feel ready why not try an exercise class or venture to the gym?
  • Look at your diet – again don’t do anything too extreme too quickly here as this will just put your body under even more strain. Start by swapping snacks like crisps and sweets for fruit, nuts and vegetables and then turn your attention to meals. Our website has a whole range of tasty, healthy recipes (including healthy desserts and snacks) to choose from so you won’t feel like you’re missing out on all the good stuff!

Menopause

Unfortunately just as you think your period symptoms should be easing off, cramps can actually get worse. That’s because during the menopause the hormones that regulate your menstrual cycle begin to fluctuate. This causes changes to your cycle including in the length of it, the regularity of it and the severity of your pain. 

At this time many women also experience pain even if their period doesn’t come. The exact reasons for this aren’t clear but it might be a result of the conflicting messages being sent by the changes in your hormones.

Managing the menopause:

  • Visit our menopause hub – here you’ll find a lots of information on the menopause  including details about symptoms and treatments, as well as advice on how to get through this challenging period
  • Try herbal remedies – for a little bit of support during all stages of the menopause you can turn to our Menopause Support Tablets. This contains a mix of soya beans, soy isoflavones, magnesium, hibiscus extract and vervain essential oil which together help to deal with a range of menopause symptoms including hot flushes, night sweats and fatigue.
  • Address your cramp – if menstrual pain is a problem for you during the menopause then make sure you take simple steps towards addressing the problem. This includes taking warm baths, exercising and using a hot water bottle - I’m sure you have plenty experience of these things over the years!

Endometriosis

Severe period pain can sometimes be attributed to endometriosis, a condition where the tissue that line the womb is found outside it, including in the ovaries and fallopian tubes. 

This mostly affects young girls and women of a child-bearing age but it is not uncommon for it to develop in adulthood too. As well as intense pain, endometriosis is often accompanied by other symptoms such as heavy bleeding, difficulty getting pregnant, back pain, pain when going to the toilet and sickness.

If you are suffering from any of these symptoms and they are affecting your ability to go about your day-to-day life the best advice I can give is visit your doctor. Endometriosis is a serious condition and it is essential that you get expert advice on how to treat it.

1 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15589774 

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/04/120402162546.htm 

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Here's what I recommend

As the A.Vogel  Women’s Health advisor, I recommend Agnus castus to help relieve premenstrual symptoms such as painful periods.

Learn more

Did you know?

Did you know the average age of starting your periods has changed? A 100 years ago, 16 was the average age for a girl to get her first period in the UK but now this has dropped to just 12! Incredible!

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