Unbearable period pain may indicate an underlying medical condition. Proper treatment can often help relieve the pain.

There are many causes of severe period pain, which doctors call dysmenorrhea.

Painful periods can be a sign of a serious medical condition or can occur for no apparent reason. In either case, the right treatment can help relieve pain.

Research shows that many people with painful periods report that their doctors do not take their pain seriously. Others do not seek care because they assume that unbearable period pain is normal or that a doctor will not care.

Not taking menstrual pain seriously is an example of gender bias in healthcare.

Read on to learn more about severe period pain, its causes, treatment options, and how to seek medical care.

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Up to 91% of people who get periods report monthly pain. Severe pain, however, is not typical, and people should know that regular period pain is a reason to speak with a healthcare professional.

In addition to severe pain, people may also experience:

  • inability to attend regular activities or work because of the pain
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • headache
  • heavy periods

Nothing can accurately measure how much pain a person is in, and different people report different experiences of period pain. In general, though, periods should not be so painful that are distracting, make daily tasks impossible, or cause intolerable pain.

Learn more about menstrual cramps.

There are various possible reasons why some people might experience unbearable period pain. Doctors classify severe pain as primary dysmenorrhea if there is no underlying cause and as secondary dysmenorrhea when there is another cause.

Primary dysmenorrhea

Doctors do not understand why some people have more painful periods than others. A group of chemicals called prostaglandins cause the uterus to contract during a period, and if it contracts more forcefully than usual, it may lead to severely painful periods. Another chemical, vasopressin, may also play a role.

Typically, people with primary dysmenorrhea have no obvious health problems that could cause the symptoms.

Secondary dysmenorrhea

Secondary dysmenorrhea typically means that a medical condition causes painful periods. Some potential causes include the following:

Rarely, a uterine infection (UTI), pregnancy, birth complications, or another urgent medical condition may cause sudden period-like pain. Newly painful periods may also signal a serious condition, such as cancer, but this is not likely if a person has always had painful periods.

Learn more about UTIs.

It is important to see a doctor for severe period pain to get an accurate diagnosis. In many cases, treating the underlying cause may help reduce pain and other period symptoms. For example, an infection may require antibiotics, and uterine fibroids may require surgical removal.

For people with primary dysmenorrhea, prescription or over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) might be the best option, as they block protaglandins development.

Hormonal birth control may also ease symptoms.

Lifestyle changes, such as diet and exercise, may also provide some symptom relief. Research shows that exercise may reduce pain, but no specific research shows that one kind of exercisee is superior to another.

Learn more about medications for period cramps here.

How much pain a person can tolerate varies, but typically, too much pain is when a person feels they cannot tolerate it, or it regularly interferes with their daily life.

Some signs that a person needs to seek immediate care for severe period pain include:

Learn more about the first period after an abortion.

A person should consider contacting a doctor if:

  • the pattern of their period changes
  • their periods become more painful than usual
  • home treatment of painful periods is not working

Go to the emergency room if:

  • sudden intense pain develops following birth, a miscarriage, an abortion, or surgery on the uterus
  • sudden intense pain is accompanied by a fever
  • bleeding develops after a trauma, such as an accident

The following are answers to FAQ about severe period pain.

What should I do if my period cramps are unbearable?

If period cramps are unbearable, see a doctor. Treatment can help, and the pain may signal an underlying medical issue.

Why is my period so excruciatingly painful?

Periods may be very painful because of an underlying medical condition, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, or pelvic inflammatory disease. Doctors call this secondary dysmenorrhea. Other people may experience pain for no apparent reason. Doctors call this primary dysmenorrhea.

Should I go to the hospital if my period cramps are unbearable?

Painful cramps are not usually a medical emergency. However, a person should seek emergency care if they experience new, intense pain following a pregnancy, miscarriage, or abortion, or if they have signs of an infection such as a fever.

How much pain is too much period pain?

Period pain is too much if it is constant or interferes with a person’s ability to function or do daily tasks. Cramping is normal but constant, severe pain is not.

Although many people experience cramping and discomfort during periods, unbearable pain is not normal, and they should seek treatment. A person may have to try several doctors and experiment with different treatments to get results.

It is important to seek care, to be specific about symptoms, and to insist on help. Severe period pain can be a warning sign of another medical condition, so it is important to get prompt care.